HE PROBABLY wouldn't like to hear it put this way, but Jack Kemp has just revived one of Walter Mondale's bad ideas. The idea is delegate committees. It got candidate Mondale into political and legal trouble; he was attacked by Gary Hart and agreed with the Federal Election Commission, after the November election, to repay $379,640 and pay a civil fine of $18,500 "to avoid protracted litigation over this matter." Candidate Kemp is trying to avoid similar problems by asking the FEC for an advisory opinion before any delegate committees raise or spend any money. That may keep him away from legal problems, but it shouldn't keep him out of political trouble.
Delegate committees are, technically, not committees to elect a presidential candidate, but committees to elect a particular delegate who is running in states where delegates are separately elected. The fiction is that the delegate is running a separate campaign. But in most states delegates must be approved by the candidate, and forming delegate committees is just another way to plough extra money into the presidential candidate's campaign, over and above what is allowed under federal campaign laws. The Kemp campaign says it doesn't intend to use delegate committees to evade the $1,000 limit on individual contributions, although if the FEC adopts its position it could do that. Rather, the Kemp campaign says it wants to spend more money than it has budgeted in the big states that vote in the weeks following Super Tuesday. But either way the result is the same: more money would be spent in behalf of Jack Kemp than the official Kemp campaign has raised and spent.
That's important, because consolidating all fund raising and spending in one central campaign is an essential part of the presidential campaign finance law scheme: without it, a campaign might evade the disclosure requirements and contribution limits that are the heart of the law. There may be a theoretical case for allowing presidential candidates to encourage separate delegate committees, and there certainly is a need to redraft the FEC's regulations on the subject, which in their current form do not make sense. But politically, delegate committees are a dreadful idea. If Mr. Kemp doubts that, he should just ask Walter Mondale.