For Campaign Contributions by the Wheelbarrow, the Back Door Is Open

(By Larry Crowe -- Associated Press)
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By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Surely a presidential contest between such well-known campaign finance reformers as Barack Obama and John McCain will be free of big donations from fat cats, right?

Not really.

Both candidates have established "joint fundraising committees," which magically -- and legally -- transform what we all thought was the contribution limit of $2,300 per person per election into donations that can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The committees, which have names like "McCain Victory 2008" and "Democratic White House Victory Fund," will funnel funds from rich folks to the candidates' primary campaigns (that's the $2,300 part), to the national party (up to $28,500) and, in McCain's case, to state parties as well ($10,000 each).

An individual can donate up to $65,500 per election cycle to all parties and political action committees.

Some gadflies that backed past efforts at reform by Obama and McCain are unhappy about the new committees. "Campaign finance limits are supposed to prevent the undue influence of big contributors," said Taylor Lincoln of the liberal group Public Citizen. "By accepting contributions of up to nearly $70,000, McCain and Obama have blown a gaping hole in the integrity of our campaign finance system."

The joint committees will act as conduits for tens of millions of dollars, predicted Robert K. Kelner of the law firm Covington & Burling. "There continues to be an infinite number of ways to raise very large sums of money, even in the post-McCain-Feingold world," he said.

Oh, well.

An Ethical Scoop

Even with the advent of tough new restrictions on gifts, Congress is still making room for a traditional treat: ice cream.

The International Dairy Foods Association plans to hold its 26th Annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party next month. The event is always a highlight of the year for lawmakers, staffers and mooching journalists.

And that's not all. The anti-poverty One Campaign, made famous by rock star Bono, will sponsor an Ice Cream Social tomorrow on both the House and Senate sides of the Capitol. Ben & Jerry's is donating the sweet stuff, and hundreds of people are expected to attend.

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