10/05/97 - 06:44 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Ford, Carter back finance reform

WASHINGTON - Former Presidents Ford and Carter say public service "is being tarnished" by a campaign finance system that forces elected officials to spend too much time raising money.

"As a minimal first step, Congress and the president should approve legislation that bans soft money, enhances enforcement of existing campaign finance laws and creates a more accountable disclosure system that informs rather than obfuscates," the two write in The Washington Post.

In a guest editorial column appearing in Sunday's editions, Ford and Carter say "it is impossible to expect one side to disarm unilaterally in this massive arms race for funds. Rather, both sides must agree that bilateral limits are the only rational course of action to preserve the moral integrity of our electoral system."

They continue:

"One item that we should all agree on is a ban of so-called 'soft money' for national parties and their campaign committees. Soft money was initially intended exclusively for 'party building' activities but has metamorphosed into a huge supplemental source of cash for campaigns and candidates.

"It is one of the most corrupting influences in modern elections because there is no limit on the size of donations - thus giving disproportionate influence to those with the deepest pockets."

While not specifically endorsing a particular bill, a ban on soft money is a cornerstone of legislation pending in the Senate sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis.

It is being pushed aggressively by President Clinton and most Democrats, opposed by most Republicans.

Ford was president from 1974 to 1977, Carter from 1977 to 1981.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.