A look at Bill Bradley's resume reveals some not-so-run-of-the-mill entries: Princeton All-American, Rhodes Scholar, New York Knicks star and three-term Democratic senator from New Jersey.
Now, as he prepares to retire from the Senate at the end of this year, Bradley is about to launch another career: reformer.
As he traveled around Erie County Monday campaigning for Democratic congressional candidate Thomas M. Fricano, meeting with local religious leaders and speaking in Canisius College's Fitzpatrick Lecture Series, Bradley seemed to be laying the groundwork for life after the Senate.
Reforming the way money increasingly dominates American political campaigns is a major starting point for Bradley's new endeavor.
"This year will be the all-time whopper in which money plays a disproportionate role," he said in a meeting with editors and reporters of The Buffalo News. "As we talk, the wires are burning up with politicians seeking $250,000 or $500,000 in 'soft' contributions. This year it's going to be egregious."
Bradley, 53, is leaving what he calls the "greatest elective office in the world" to begin addressing such issues from outside the realm of public office. He admits issues such as campaign finance reform face tough sledding because of Supreme Court rulings that protect spending as "free speech" and because entrenched politicians are more interested in prolonging their careers than changing the system.
But as the public begins to see more and more office-holders "smudged" by a political system dominated by raising campaign funds, he thinks the case for change dramatically improves. "Given the massive amounts of untraceable money coming in, the public could very well become interested," he said.
Bradley's reference to "soft money" deals with programs such as the AFL-CIO's $35 million campaign against Republican congressional candidates this year, or the "Harry and Louise" campaign against health-care reform early in the Clinton administration. While the Supreme Court regards such spending as within the rights of free speech, Bradley is proposing a constitutional amendment to set limits.
"If you set a limit, it would mean you couldn't have all these third entities hammering you in an election," he said. "And without doing something about this, we simply can't get to some of the underlying issues confronting this country."
He admits some of the same free-speech problems guiding Supreme Court decisions on the issue could cloud any drive for a constitutional amendment.
"What do you do about Harry and Louise in health care? That's a more difficult question," he said. "One way might be that any TV station running a negative ad would have to allow a rebuttal ad in, say, 30 seconds. But that's an area that remains open, and we'll have to figure out how to plug it."
Though he is often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, Bradley said his immediate future will center around writing and campaigning for some of his new causes. He said action on issues such as campaign financing has to originate in places outside Washington.
Like Theodore Roosevelt's campaign for a progressive agenda 100 years ago, Bradley said, the time for campaign finance reform may finally be upon us.
"Though he couldn't get it at the dawn of the 20th century, maybe we'll finally be able to get it at the start of the 21st."