Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 1997;
The general chairman of the Democratic Party yesterday accused Republicans of employing "a deliberate strategy to try to break us" financially and vowed to resist automatic compliance with subpoenas from the House committee investigating campaign finance abuses.
"If there is something legitimate that we feel has not been produced, we'll produce it," Colorado Gov. Roy Romer told reporters yesterday. "But if it's a wild goose chase, we'll resist it."
The Democratic National Committee has spent $11.3 million complying with requests for documents by various investigative committees, which has left the party still deeply in debt more than a year after the 1996 presidential campaign. Romer said the party now will focus its limited resources on the 1998 midterm elections rather than fish for documents whenever House investigators request them.
The party chairman claimed "it would just be irresponsible for us to continue to let them use these hearings . . . [to] keep us off the playing field in '98."
Romer, who came to his party post earlier this year determined to try to clean up the system of funding campaigns, repeatedly denounced the current campaign finance system. But he was equally emphatic in defending the Democrats, and in particular President Clinton, for continuing to raise as much money as possible under these rules.
He argued that the DNC's recent decision to abandon a policy of limiting large donations to the party to no more than $100,000 was vital to remaining competitive with the GOP in the current election cycle. He said it was an experiment at reforming the system that failed because "the Republicans didn't follow."
"The system is flawed; it ought to be changed," he said. "[We said], 'We're going to lead you down that path. We'll take some temporary steps.' They say, 'Up yours!'"
A spokesman for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, responding to Romer's charges, said the Democratic chairman was setting "a bad example for America" with talk of defying congressional subpoena requests.
"We are a country of lawful process that ought to be obeyed," said Will Dwyer, the committee spokesman.
Dwyer said the DNC has yet to respond to a series of outstanding subpoenas from the committee, but added that he hoped Romer's statement was more political than legal. Asked whether House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) planned additional requests for documents from the DNC, he said, "We believe we've covered what we'd like to. Now we'd like the documents produced. . . . Some are months overdue."
Dwyer added that Burton is not looking "for a contest" with the Democrats. "We think that rank-and-file Democrats, like rank-and-file Republicans, expect that whoever is properly subpoenaed by the Congress will properly reply."
In his comments yesterday, Romer was careful to distinguish among subpoena requests from the Justice Department or Senate investigators and the Burton committee.
"The Justice Department subpoenas are in a different category," he said. "We are scrupulous in the way we're going to respond to them because it's an appropriate inquiry."
He also said he had attempted to cooperate fully with the Senate panel chaired by Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) and that at one point had doubled the number of people assigned by the DNC to find and supply documents requested by the committee.
But he accused Burton of purely political motives in continuing the House investigation. "Obviously, we have got to comply with what the law requires us to, and we're going to do that," Romer said. "But I'm trying to tell you that there was a strategic political campaign on the part of the Republican leadership of Congress to drain our coffers and preoccupy us, and we've got to stiffen against that. And we're going to do it legally, but we're going to do it."
Romer also said Clinton, as head of the party, has "a responsibility to help us get out of that hole" to assure that Democrats are not overwhelmingly outspent in 1998.
Romer acknowledged that Democrats had failed to enact campaign finance reforms during the first two years of Clinton's presidency. Blaming "incumbent self-interest" for the failure, he said, "I wish we had changed it." The party leader said he was particularly irked with Republicans because they were making no effort to fix a broken system. "These guys have 20 investigative committees going after these issues," he said, "and I wouldn't mind if they were solving something, but they're not solving the problem. . . . This is on the edge, it's peripheral. They think if you put somebody in jail, that's going to make the system work."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company