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Politics Section
Special Reports



Fred Thompson
Senator Fred Thompson led the Senate investigation
Photo by Ray Lustig,
The Washington Post


Key Stories

Most recent stories appear first in each category. In some sections, one story has been selected to provide an overview.

Criminal Investigation
Babbitt Probe
Reforming the System
Senate Hearings
Money Machine: A Post Series
Gore in the Spotlight
Clinton and the DNC
The China Question
The Fund-Raising Continues

(Or see our News Archive of every story about Senate campaign finance hearings from July through November.)


Criminal Investigation

Overview: In late 1996, a Justice Department task force started investigating allegations of campaign fund-raising abuses by the Clinton reelection campaign. Critics accuse Attorney General Janet Reno of botching the investigation and demand that she appoint an independent counsel. In a Dec. 3, 1997, Post story, Roberto Suro wrote about Reno's decision not to appoint an independent counsel to investigate telephone fund-raising by President Clinton and Vice President Gore. See Reno Decides Against Independent Counsel To Probe Clinton, Gore.

Fund-Raiser Makes Plea of Not Guilty
February 20, 1998
Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia proclaimed her innocence a day after a grand jury charged her with laundering illegal contributions from a California Buddhist temple to the 1996 Clinton-Gore reelection effort and other Democratic campaigns.

Trie Enters Plea of Not Guilty
February 6, 1998
Presidential friend Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie entered a plea of not guilty on federal charges that he funneled illegal foreign contributions to the 1996 Clinton-Gore reelection effort in order to buy access to top Democratic Party and Clinton administration officials.

Indictment Secured in Fund Probe
January 29, 1998
The Justice Department secured its first indictment in the investigation of alleged fund-raising abuses during the 1996 presidential campaign, charging Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, an Arkansas friend of President Clinton's, with funneling illegal foreign funds into Democratic coffers.

The Probe's Path: A Timeline
December 3, 1997
Key events in the investigation, from March 3 to December 2.

Reno Concedes Problems in Funds Probe
October 16, 1997
Attorney General Janet Reno acknowledged that the Justice Department investigation of the campaign finance scandal has been plagued by internal tensions and organizational problems.

Basic Conflict Impeded Justice Probe of Fund-Raising
October 3, 1997
The justice task force was plagued by a disagreement over its mandate that was so fundamental it may have crippled its efforts from the start.

Reno Is Now Probing Clinton's Fund-Raising
September 21, 1997
The Justice Department has taken the first step in a process that could lead to the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate allegations that President Clinton made illegal 1996 fund-raising telephone calls from the White House.

Reno Moves to Expand Fund-Raising Inquiry
September 17, 1997
Attorney General Janet Reno has ordered a major shake-up and expansion of the task force investigating allegations of illegal fund-raising.

Justice Dept. to Probe Gore Fund Calls
September 4, 1997
The Justice Department has launched a review of Vice President Gore's solicitation of campaign contributions by telephone from his White House office to determine if they warrant a full-scale investigation that could lead to appointment of an independent counsel.

Reno Formally Rejects Independent Counsel
April 15, 1997
Attorney General Janet Reno rejected Republican demands for an independent counsel to investigate reports of illegal fund-raising by the 1996 Clinton reelection campaign.


Babbitt Probe

Overview: Attorney General Janet Reno has requested an independent counsel to investigate Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. At issue is whether the department's decision to deny a controversial Indian casino license was motivated by White House pressure to satisfy competing tribes that had made large contributions to the Democratic National Committee. In an interview published Dec. 17, 1997, Babbitt said he wasn't even involved in the decision. See Babbitt: 'Out of the Loop' on Casino.

Reno Requests Independent Counsel to Investigate Babbitt
February 12, 1998
Attorney General Janet Reno has asked special court to appoint an independent counsel to investigate whether Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt misled Congress in connection with an Indian casino controversy.

Casino Investigation Would Reach Beyond Babbitt, Officials Say
February 11, 1998
With Attorney General Janet Reno poised to recommend an independent counsel investigation of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's role in an Indian casino controversy, Justice Department officials acknowledged yesterday that such an inquiry would likely reach into the White House and the Democratic National Committee.

Babbitt Renews Wisconsin Casino Denials
January 30, 1998
Denouncing attacks on his integrity as "uncalled for and unwarranted," Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt told a House committee that he is being victimized by "a half-baked theory of improper political influence."

Dog Track, Local Vote Keys to Controversy on Babbitt and Indian Casino
December 21, 1997
The controversy that has cast a cloud over Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and could lead to an investigation by an independent counsel began in Hudson, Wisconsin almost 10 years ago. Since then, it has divided this upscale community on the Minnesota border, left a trail of ruptured personal relationships and hard feelings and caused periodic upheavals in local politics.

Counsel Probe of Babbitt Is Likely, Officials Say
November 17, 1997
The investigation of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's handling of an Indian casino license appears likely to result in the appointment of an independent counsel because of difficulties in establishing the truthfulness of his sworn statements to Congress, senior Justice Department officials said.

Old Friends At Odds Over Indian Casino
October 31, 1997
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the highest ranking government official to testify in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's investigation of campaign financing abuses in the 1996 election, told the panel that the decision to deny the application of three Indian tribes to open a gambling casino in Hudson, Wis., was not influenced by White House or Democratic National Committee officials. This contradicted the testimony of Babbitt's former colleague, Paul F. Eckstein, who said the Cabinet secretary had told him of being pressured by a top White House official.


Reforming the System

Overview: The issue of campaign finance reform has plagued Congress for more than a decade and has taken on new urgency from the controversy over abuses during the 1996 presidential elections. But campaign finance is the most partisan of issues (see the introduction to this Special Report). And Congress has become expert at taking no action. In a Sept. 27, 1997, Post article, Helen Dewar described the floor debate on the issue, during which Senators used rare passion and eloquence to describe the sharp divisions among them. See Senators Debate Campaign Finance.

Sen. Lott Tries to Block Action on Campaign Finance Reform
February 25, 1998
A narrow Senate majority signaled support for proposed legislation to overhaul campaign finance laws, prompting a maneuver by Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) that could block further action on the measure.

Campaign Finance Resurfacing in Senate
February 20, 1998
Campaign finance reform returns to center stage in the Senate, with its advocates battling the odds to break through formidable obstacles that have stymied action for the past two decades.

News Analysis: Will the Public Force Action on Campaigns?
October 13, 1997
Republicans won the latest battle over campaign finance reform, but the war slogs on – with no end in sight as long as money pours into the system, reformers try to control it, both sides perceive political gain and the public tunes out on the whole thing.

Campaign Finance Overhaul Blocked
October 8, 1997
Legislation sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) could not attract the 60 votes to overcome a threatened Republican filibuster, emboldening its foes to claim that it is finished.

Campaign Reformís Uphill Fight
October 7, 1997
The McCain-Feingold bill, aimed at staunching the flow of unlimited "soft money" to political parties, is a slimmed-down version of legislation pushed unsuccessfully nearly every year of the past decade. Details changed, but it always tripped over one hurdle or another.

Wielding Third Force in Politics
September 20, 1997
They have become a powerful third force in American politics, operating outside the election law: interest groups, from labor unions to business, that spend millions on "issue advocacy" advertising

The Man Who Makes Money Talk
September 7, 1997
A profile of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the leading foe of campaign finance reform legislation.


Senate Hearings

Overview: The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held hearings into campaign finance wrongdoings from July 8 through October 31. In a Nov. 1, 1997, Post story, Guy Gugliotta wrote that while Sen. Fred D. Thompson's investigation ended with a whimper, it featured an almost endless parade of tapes, documents and witnesses showing the Clinton administration hustling indecorously for dollars. See Inquiry Leaves Indelible Images of Excess.

GOP Hits Gore on Temple Fund-Raiser
February 10, 1998
Vice President Gore "was well aware" that an April 1996 Democratic Party event at a Los Angeles Buddhist temple "was designed to raise money for his party," concludes a final draft of the report by Senate Republicans investigating fund-raising abuses in the last presidential campaign.

Hearing Becomes Forum for GOP Attacks on White House, Reno
October 8, 1997
Senate hearings on campaign finance abuses erupted into a heated round of accusations, beginning with a demand by the committee chairman, Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), that President Clinton "step up to the plate and take responsibility" for Democratic fund-raising practices.

White House Video Crew Taped Donor Meetings
October 6, 1997
The White House turned over to Senate investigators what it described as belatedly discovered videotapes of 44 of President Clinton's controversial coffees with campaign contributors.

Tamraz Defends Political Gifts for Clinton Access
September 19, 1997
International businessman Roger Tamraz entertained the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee with a colorful and unapologetic account of how money buys high-level political access in Washington.

Ex-NSC Aide Describes Pressure to Help Donor
September 18, 1997
A former National Security Council aide recounted in dramatic detail repeated attempts by officials of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Energy Department and the Democratic National Committee to pressure her into approving access to President Clinton and other senior White House officials for an international businessman and major Democratic Party donor.

Nuns Tell of Panic About Fund-Raiser
September 5, 1997
Two nuns who attended a controversial fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple with Vice President Gore last year told a Senate investigative panel how they destroyed or altered documents in an attempt to avoid embarrassment to the religious facility.

GOP's Barbour Comes Out Firing, Denounces 'Outright False Claims'
July 25, 1997
A combative Haley Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chairman, denounced what he said were "inaccurate, incomplete" and "outright false claims" that illegal foreign campaign contributions were passed through a party organization that he controlled.

Probe Fails to Link Huang, China Plan
July 20, 1997
The Governmental Affairs Committee has produced evidence that John Huang illegally funneled foreign funds into U.S. elections. But the testimony and documents fail to show that Huang's activities were part of a Chinese plan or that Huang was, in effect, a spy for China.

Senate Panel Finds 1st Direct DNC Link to Foreign Funding
July 16, 1997
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee established the first direct link between foreign money and a contribution to the Democratic National Committee. The $50,000 donation was paid for by the Lippo Group, an Indonesian conglomerate, after being made by one of its U.S. holding companies.

Chinese Plan to Buy U.S. Influence Alleged
July 9, 1997
The Senate began long-awaited hearings on the campaign finance improprieties of 1996 with pledges of fairness and cooperation and an accusation that the Chinese government is trying to buy influence with American politicians.


Post Series

Money Machine:
The Fund-Raising Frenzy of Campaign '96

A four-part series from February 1997
System Cracks Under Weight of Cash
The scandals of the 1996 campaign have led to intense pressure to overhaul the electoral system.
Outsiders Made Erie Ballot a National Battle
Washington may be the epicenter of campaign abuse, but it was places like Pennsylvania's 21st Congressional District where the excesses played out.
How Business Found Benefits in Wage Bill
Congress has given billions in tax breaks to industries and interest groups that contribute heavily to congressional campaigns.
The Little Agency That Can't
The 1996 campaign revealed the Federal Election Commission to be weak, slow footed and largely ineffectual.


Gore in the Spotlight

Overview: 1997 was a bad year for Vice President Al Gore, who saw his squeaky-clean reputation tarnished by accusations that his enthusiasm for fund-raising crossed ethical and legal boundaries. In an Oct. 4, 1997, Post story, Ceci Connolly wrote that the investigation into campaign finance abuses has put Gore in a position that he – unlike Clinton – is not at all used to. See Vice President Is Thrust Into Unfamiliar Role.

Gore's Ties to Hsia Cast Shadow on 2000 Race
February 23, 1998
Now that Maria Hsia's career as a Democratic fund-raiser is scheduled to be the subject of the first trial to arise from the 1996 presidential campaign, Republicans can hardly hide their glee over the prospect that the presumed Democratic front-runner in the 2000 race for the White House might find his name bandied around a courtroom.

News Analysis: Gore and Cash Calls, a Question of Intent
September 11, 1997
Vice President Gore's solicitation of regulated money from a federal building may constitute a violation of the law, potentially a crippling blow to Gore's presidential ambitions. But anybody who investigates the case will have to show Gore's "intent" to break the law to have any chance at a successful prosecution.

Reno Holds Power Over Vice President's Prospects
September 9, 1997
Long before Vice President Gore gets a chance to face voters in the year 2000, he finds himself in the precarious position of being judged by an electorate of one: Attorney General Janet Reno.

Gore Donors' Funds Used as 'Hard Money'
September 3, 1997
More than $120,000 in campaign contributions personally solicited in 1995-96 by Vice President Gore for a "soft money" account not covered by federal law instead went into a "hard money" account subject to federal election limits.

Documents Detail Gore's Calls for DNC
August 27, 1997
Between late November 1995 and early May 1996, Vice President Gore spoke by telephone with at least 46 people from his White House office, each time seeking a contribution of between $25,000 and $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee, according to documents in the possession of Senate investigators.

Gore: Calls Broke No Law
March 4, 1997
Vice President Gore asserted he had broken no laws but said he would no longer make telephone solicitations from his office.

Gore Was 'Solicitor-in-Chief'
March 2, 1997
Vice President Gore played the central role in soliciting millions of dollars in campaign money for the Democratic Party during the 1996 election.


Clinton and the Democratic National Committee

Overview: At the heart of the allegations of fund-raising improprieties sit Bill Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. The DNC eventually returned $2.8 million in illegal or inappropriate contributions. But in a Sept. 23, 1997, Post story, John F. Harris wrote that President Clinton said that he and Vice President Gore "believed we were acting within the letter of the law" when raising funds for the 1996 campaign. See Clinton Defends Fund-Raising.

Clinton Defends Fund-Raising
March 8, 1997
President Clinton said he was forced to chase contributions by a system that is "out of whack." He urged the public not to assume the worst about his motives and those of big-money donors.

President Had Big Role in Setting Donor Perks
February 26, 1997
President Clinton and top aides were intimately involved in orchestrating a broad campaign fund-raising operation during his first term and explicitly authorized the use of the White House as a tool to woo or reward big donors, according to internal documents.

For DNC Donor, 'Resistance' Was Overcome
September 9, 1997
Democratic fund-raisers made sure that oil financier Roger Tamraz, a major DNC contributor, was admitted to four White House functions in spite of concerns about his business dealings.

Democrats Return $1.4 Million in Questionable Donations
June 28, 1997
Democratic National Committee officials announced they had returned another $1.4 million in illegal or inappropriate donations, raising the total to $2.8 million.

Unfolding Story Swelling Like a Sponge
April 6, 1997
A look at key elements of the campaign finance controversy.


The China Question

Overview: Did China try to buy influence in the 1996 elections? Many questions have been raised, but no evidence of a direct link has been discovered. And in a July 20, 1997 Post story, John F. Harris wrote that President Clinton and his senior foreign policy advisers disagree with senators of both parties who have concluded China had a plan to influence U.S. elections illegally. See White House Unswayed by China Allegations.

Findings Link Clinton Allies to Chinese Intelligence
February 10, 1998
Mochtar Riady and his son, James, who control the Indonesian-based Lippo Group conglomerate and have been friends and supporters of President Clinton since his days as Arkansas governor, "have had a long-term relationship with a Chinese intelligence agency," according to an unclassified final draft of a report by the Senate committee that last year investigated campaign finance abuses.

FBI Warned 6 on Hill About China Money
March 9, 1997
The FBI last year warned six members of Congress, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), that they had been targeted by China to receive illegal campaign contributions funneled through foreign corporations.

Chinese Embassy Role in Contributions Probed
February 13, 1997
A Justice Department investigation has uncovered evidence that representatives of the People's Republic of China sought to direct contributions from foreign sources to the Democratic National Committee before the 1996 presidential campaign.


The Fund-Raising Continues

Business Donations Show Money Follows the Leaders
November 25, 1997
The Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 prompted a massive shift in corporate America's political contributions, with the GOP's share growing dramatically.

Off-Year Elections Get Huge GOP Infusion
November 2, 1997
The Republican Party is pouring millions of dollars into this year's three major off-year elections, far outpacing the efforts of the debt-burdened Democratic Party.

RNC Gives $800,000 for 'Issue Advocacy'
October 22, 1997
The Republican National Committee, fighting to hold the House seat left vacant by the resignation of Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), has spent nearly $800,000 on "issue advocacy" ads that avoid mentioning the Republican candidate but attack the Democrat by name.

McConnell Leads Way to 'Soft Money' Record
October 5, 1997
The man promising to literally talk campaign finance reform to death set a new record for raising "soft money" for the GOP Senate campaign arm.

On Fund-Raising Issue, Clinton Has It Both Ways
September 27, 1997
Even as Clinton pressures lawmakers to take up a campaign finance plan, as the titular head of a Democratic Party mired in debt, he feels an obligation to keep headlining fund-raisers.

Parties Raised $34M in Soft Money
August 5, 1997
National political parties raised $34 million in controversial "soft money" donations in the first half of 1997, with Republicans outdoing Democrats by more than 2-to-1.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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