Special Report
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Campaign Finance
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campaign finance
Part 1: Big Money
Part 2: The Issues
Part 3: Past Reforms
Part 4: Soft Money
Part 5: Allegations
Part 6: Legislation
Overview, Part 5:
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.

From The Post
President Had Big Role in Setting Donor Perks, Feb. 26, 1997

Under Clinton, Old Practices on a New Scale, March 3, 1997

Documents Detail Gore's Calls for DNC, Aug. 27, 1997

The Little Agency That Can't, Feb. 11, 1997

The drive for cash also led to a blurring of the boundaries between government business and campaign business. For instance, Vice President Al Gore reportedly spoke by telephone with dozens of people from his White House office, each time seeking large contributions to the Democratic National Committee. Federal law generally bans government employees from raising campaign cash from federal property.

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.

As usual, it took no significant action. Next

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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