Check the Oil, Paula

Just because the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit has been settled doesn't mean we've heard the last of Jones. In fact, there are some indications that the legacy of her alleged encounter with President Clinton may resonate for a long time and in the most unusual ways.

For example, Rep. Barbara Cubin(R-Wyo.) invoked the lawsuit recently in a "Dear Colleague" letter discussing, of all things, valuation rules for federal oil leases. Congress has blocked administration efforts to calculate oil royalties based on market value rather than a formula that costs companies less. Enviros are inveighing against a legislative rider that would block any attempt to change to a market value approach. Some argue that since the oil companies have agreed to pay back royalties based on the proposed market valuation methods for purposes of settling lawsuits, why shouldn't they do that when they deal with federal oil leases.

"Yes," Cubin agrees in her letter, some "oil companies have settled lawsuits, rather than carry on protracted litigation . . . But, do oil companies settlements nevertheless indicate their guilt?" she asked.

"I ask you to heed the words of the President's counsel concerning the Paula Jones suit: `The judgment of a defendant to settle a case, to pay whatever sum may be required to settle it, is, in all candor, I think, for all of us, not reflective of any belief that he was wrong, that the other side was right.' "

Maybe Paula could evaluate the leases as well?

Thinking of You . . .

And Your Money

The best that losing political candidates can hope for after an election is to end up with maybe a small surplus in their campaign account.

However, federal election laws limit what can be done with the leftover cash. Pols can hold on to it for future campaigns, give it to other campaigns or political parties, or donate it to charity and such.

But the law says quite clearly that candidates can't convert the accounts to personal use -- meaning, to buy a new wardrobe for a Caribbean vacation, pay college tuition for the kids, make mortgage payments on that new bed-and-breakfast, or pay "funeral, cremation or burial expenses." (Maybe an exception could be made for the burial of a campaign manager in a losing election?)

Naturally, there are some gray areas into which politicians sometimes venture. Take the lovely letter we got recently from former representative Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), who gave up his House seat for an unsuccessful bid last year to replace Demo-cratic Sen. Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings. Inglis has more than $50,000 left in his campaign account from that race.

"One year ago this month you contributed . . . to our campaign for a new Senate," Inglis says in letters that have gone out to all contributors. "That anniversary finds me remembering your generosity and gives me this opportunity to thank you again. Thank you for being part of our team . . . Mary Anne and I treas-ure your support, and we value your friendship." At the bottom it notes that the letter is "authorized and paid for by the Inglis for Senate Committee, Inc."

Nothing wrong with that, campaign law experts say. A little card enclosed provides the Iglises' home address and phone numbers on one side.

But the other side gives his law firm numbers and says: "My practice is centered in corporate and commercial transactions, and I am also seeking to develop new and existing client relationships in all of the firm's practice areas."

Isn't this soliciting personal business? a Loop Fan asked.

Not at all, says campaign treasurer Jeffrey J. Parker. "The letter is saying this is where you can reach Bob, at home and at business." And the detailed descriptions of his law practice? Just "trying to be explicit" about Inglis's work, says Parker.

Some people "got confused" by the letter, Parker says, and thought Inglis wanted donations, so they sent money. "We put it right into the bank. We're not going to turn down money if someone wants to give it to us."

Inglis has already filed a statement of potential candidacy for a 2002 Senate race -- unless incumbent Sen. Strom Thurmond, who won't even be 100 by then, decides on one more term.

Memo: Stay In Touch

Washington certainly keeps up with the national trend toward informality. Even so, some old-fashioned senators were a bit put off by a "Memorandum for United States Senators," sent on White House letterhead, "FROM: Larry Stein, Assistant to the President and Director for Legislative Affairs."

In the memo, detailing a presidential conference on philanthropy and how to "expand this tradition for future generations," Stein writes, "For more general information . . . please feel free to contact my office at 456-6493. Thank you in advance for your support."

Most senators already "feel free" to call Stein's office, one senator's aide says. In fact, they feel quite free to call President Clinton. And they like more personalized letters. Some habits die hard.

Tips and comments for Al Kamen's column are welcomed at: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail at Loop@washpost.com. Please include home and work phone numbers.

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