Allegations - The Excesses of '96
With the contribution and spending caps now irrelevant, the vast appetite for money in the 1996 campaign led to excesses. And while the problem was bipartisan in nature, it is the Democratic National Committee and the White House that have been linked to the most outrageous conduct.
The DNC has acknowledged that many 1996 soft-money contributions were illegal or inappropriate, and has returned $2.8 million in contributions it identified, after the fact, as being from questionable sources mostly foreign nationals or people contributing on behalf of third parties.
And the Clinton administration engaged in fund-raising tactics that, while not necessarily illegal, were widely perceived as unethical and tacky. With Clinton's explicit approval, donors were invited to spend the night in the White House's Lincoln Bedroom, or to meet with the president over coffee. A number of donors with questionable backgrounds swept into the White House without adequate security checks. Some even tried to take advantage of their access to the president to pursue personal financial opportunities.
Once again, as in the 1972 Nixon campaign, donors were directly rewarded with favors from the White House although just how far that parallel extends remains the subject of debate.
Those who looked to the Federal Election Commission to stop the excesses of '96 were sorely disappointed.
Since its founding, the commission has time and time again proved to be weak, slow and largely ineffective. Structured to deadlock with three commissioners from each party the FEC has also seen its budget and authority dwindle over time thanks to Congress and the courts.
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