Both Oregon's Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and former state lawmaker Kevin Mannix are right in noting Oregon's campaign finance law is ripe for some serious tweaking.

Only when Oregonians can see who donated what to whom can they make fully informed judgments in casting ballots. As the law now stands, that bright light can be legally dimmed.

That point was made clear again when the state attorney general made a final report on his investigation into a complaint made against Mannix earlier this year. The complaint alleged Mannix, a Republican, had violated state law when a donor put large sums of money into political action committees that then made donations to Mannix. The PACs made all the necessary disclosures about donors, and Mannix listed the PACs, of which he was treasurer, when making his own required financial disclosures. He was not required to list on his own disclosures individual donors to the PACs, however. The effect was that neither Mannix nor the donor, the late Robert Randall of Portland, had to acknowledge directly their financial relationship.

The attorney general, after investi- gating the matter, said Mannix did nothing that violated the law. Similarly, the Democratic Party also was within the law when the issue came up in 1990.

But being on the right side of the legal line and fulfilling the spirit campaign law that works on the assumption that disclosure is far more effective in providing for fair and honest elections than is a limit on campaign contributions are two different things.

Both Mannix and Bradbury acknowledge that, and Bradbury has said he will appoint a panel to look at possible changes to the law and make recommendations to the 2005 Legislature.

They're overdue. Lawmakers of both parties have known for at least 13 years - since the Democrats had reporting problems of their own - that the loophole was there. Yet they've failed in that time to find a meaningful way to close it. Their failure does a disservice to the Oregonians who put them in office and who deserve to know who is paying their campaign bills.

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