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A Scandal Crossing Party Lines . . .

By Mark Shields
Monday, October 13, 1997; Page A27


The great scandal of the 1996 campaign does not involve the question of whether fund-raising phone calls were made from the Lincoln Bedroom, or whether, as president, Bill Clinton feverishly hosted more White House political fund-raising events than had George Bush. He did. No, the truly serious scandal was the organized, deliberate and unprecedented evasions by both the Democratic and Republican presidential tickets of the federal laws specifically defining spending and contribution limits.

Under the law of the United States, which provided both men with public funds for their campaigns, Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican Bob Dole solemnly agreed in writing to abide by set spending limits of $37 million during the primaries and $62 million for the general election campaign.

Of course, it has long been against the law for any candidate for federal office to accept any funds from the treasuries of corporations or labor unions. The law is unambiguous. A candidate for federal office can accept a maximum campaign contribution of $1,000 from an individual and up to $5,000 from a political-action committee. In 1996, the campaigns of Clinton and Dole made a mockery of the pledges that Clinton and Dole publicly had made.

To evade the statutory spending and contribution limits, the Clinton and Dole campaigns employed a legal fiction. Using the time and charm of its candidate, the Clinton campaign raised and spent at least $22 million in "soft money" during the primaries (when Clinton had no opponent), according to the evidence collected by Common Cause.

Soft money is the unlimited and largely unregulated contributions frequently running to six figures from wealthy individuals, corporations and labor unions. Under the law, soft money cannot be given to a candidate's campaign but can go for "party building" or an "issue campaign." Enter the legal fiction.

The same professionals who did the media ads and the polling for the Clinton and Dole campaigns miraculously were chosen to do the media ads and polling for the party committees that received the big soft money contributions. These TV spots "independently" produced by the Republican and Democratic National committees bore striking resemblance to the campaign's own commercials. All that was missing was the "vote for" tag line.

President Clinton's chief political guru, Dick Morris, who championed and crafted nearly all the television spots paid for with the party's soft money, decimated the sham of any independence on the part of the national committee in his book, "Behind the Oval Office."

Morris wrote: "In 1996, the Clinton campaign and, at the president's behest, the DNC spent upwards of $85 million on ads. . . . The president became the day-to-day operational director of our TV ad campaign. He worked over every script, watched every ad, ordered changes in every visual presentation and decided which ads would run when and where."

While there is no first-person testimony to put Bob Dole in the TV editing room where his spots were produced, it is apparent that the Dole campaign collected at least $9 million in soft money during the primaries, which was spent on RNC spots that only trumpeted Dole's virtues and Clinton's vices.

For Congress and the Department of Justice to continue to ignore what both the Democrats and Republicans did in 1996 to evade federal election law through the fraud of soft money and phony "independent" expenditures constitutes a genuine American scandal.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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