AUSTIN, Texas -- The trouble with Granny D, the 90-year-old crusader who walked across the entire country to support campaign finance reform, is that she makes the rest of us look like such schlumps. Whew, what a record for citizen action: 3,200 miles. Sure makes me feel like an armchair warrior.

Granny D's real name is Doris Haddock, and she's been walking for 14 months -- from Pasadena, Calif., to Washington, D.C., including all of last spring in Texas. (It always takes a spell to walk across Texas.)

She got to D.C. on Tuesday by walking about 10 miles a day. She had to be hospitalized for dehydration in the Mojave Desert. She got snowed on, rained on and sleeted on; she has arthritis and emphysema; and she just kept going. And all to draw attention to the root of the rot in American politics: money.

In Washington, Granny D told the crowd gathered to welcome her that when she walked through the rows of white crosses in Arlington National Cemetery, she thought to the soldiers buried there: "Did you, brave spirits, give your lives for a government where we might stand together as free and equal citizens? Or did you give your lives so that laws might be sold to the highest bidder, turning this temple of our Fair Republic into a bawdy house where anything and everything is done for a price? We hear your answers in the wind."

To Sen. Mitch McConnell and all the other opponents of campaign finance reform who keep claiming that people don't care about the issue, Granny D said, "I have come to tell them that they are wildly mistaken."

And this is a woman who knows. Everywhere she went, the whole way, people spontaneously came out to join her, to walk a few miles with her, to offer her dinner and a bed for the night. This wasn't an organized deal, although campaign finance groups like Common Cause publicized her walk -- it was a people deal. "Go, Granny, go," people chanted as she sailed by; a woman who walks the walk.

Granny D challenged the U.S. Senate on Tuesday: "Along my 3 thousand miles through the heart of America, which I made to disprove your lie, did I meet anyone who thought that their voice as an equal citizen now counts for much in the corrupt halls of Washington? No, I did not. Did I meet anyone who felt anger or pain over this? I did indeed, and I watched them shake with rage sometimes when they spoke, and I saw tears well up in their eyes."

Her campaign finance reform proposal is 25 words long, and she asks everyone running for office to sign it: "I pledge my vote and full procedural support to ban soft money -- the $100,000 contributions to state and federal political races that undermine our democracy."

Speaking of which, here's where we are in the presidential mud fight on campaign finance reform. Sen. John McCain, of course, is practically synonymous with campaign finance reform. He and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., have been fighting for it for years. This is McCain's major claim to being a reformer, and he has had to buck his own party on the issue.

The McCain-Feingold bill -- passed by both houses last session but stopped by McConnell's filibuster in the Senate -- would ban all the unlimited, unregulated soft money contributions to political parties from corporations, unions and individuals. The bill would also write into law a Supreme Court decision holding that union members may refuse to pay that portion of their dues that is used for political purposes.

George W. Bush, who was recently born again as a campaign finance reformer in the wake of his defeat in the New Hampshire primary, has a total nonstarter of a plan. He favors a ban on corporate and union soft money contributions, but not a ban on individual contributions. This would actually make the political system even more responsive to the very rich.

Bush also wants Congress to pass "paycheck protection" legislation at the same time. This little number requires union members to give their advance, affirmative consent before any portion of their dues can be used for political purposes.

In the first place, "paycheck protection" simply kills any chance for campaign finance reform because the unions are totally opposed to it. For some reason, they think the average union member doesn't have as much money to voluntarily donate to politics as the average founder, chair, CEO, director or executive of a major corporation.

Second, the phony "paycheck protection" issue is simply discriminatory because it says nothing about whether shareholders would be required to give their permission before corporate funds are spent on political activities. Under the Bush plan, corporate money would continue to come into the national parties via contributions to the state parties.

A Bush spokesman claims that passing reforms without "paycheck protection" leaves a "$300 million loophole" for labor unions to use against the GOP. Frankly, that's hooey. Union soft money contributions would be banned under McCain-Feingold.

The third problem is that Bush does not address the problem of "sham issue ads." Under his proposal, anonymous groups could continue to run campaign ads masquerading as "issue discussion," using money that would be completely illegal if given to candidates directly -- as the tobacco industry did in South Carolina.

Bill Bradley and Al Gore have both pledged to use no soft money in this year's campaign, without waiting for a reform law, if the Republican candidate will do the same.

In my column of Feb. 28, I did not make clear that Texas Gov. George W. Bush did not fail to sign nor did he threaten to veto several parts of the package of bills in the 1997 Legislature collectively known as the Patients' Bill of Rights.

Bush failed to sign only the bill in the package that allows patients to sue their HMOs after an independent review of their claims.

Because similar packages of patients' rights are being debated in Congress and other states as single bills called the Patients' Bill of Rights, Bush's opposition to that sole program was inadvertently misimplied to have been to the entire package of bills. It is the entire package of bills that has given Texas its claim to leadership in this area.

Also, the bill of rights item that Bush did veto in 1995 was sponsored by state Sen. Jim Turner, not Sen. David Sibley. And at last published report, three lawsuits have been filed under the bill that Bush refused to sign, rather than two.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.