The message was not quite as unambiguous as "your money or your life" -- not quite. The Friends of Jim Abdnor messengers were instructed to wait in each political action committee office for the PAC director to respond. "President Reagan is attending a fundraiser for Jim," the letter said. "I am sure" -- the certainty is curious, given the president's lack of interest in political detail -- "that the president will be disappointed to hear that your PAC has not signed on to attend the president's tribute to Jim. Please fill out the attached card and send it back with the messenger who delivered this letter."
On the card were three choices.
First choice: give "the maximum contribution of $5,000."
Second choice: buy one or more tickets at $1,500 each.
Third choice: "No, our PAC does not wish to support the Salute to Jim Abdnor featuring" -- a word from the lexicon of Mr. Reagan's movie days -- "President Ronald Reagan." Or, in the vernacular of the season, trick or treat.
What is noteworthy is that this is not a wild aberration from standard political practice but only a mild exaggeration. Other solicitors of PAC funds don't require their messengers to wait for a response and don't imply that the president will be displeased if they don't ante up. But the message they send is not much different. One PAC director is reported to have ripped up the Abdnor letter and thrown it in the wastebasket. But a great many politicians are too greedy for PAC money, and a great many PACs are too eager to give it away.
The scene is not so bad as it was in the days of Maurice ("Give me back my good name") Stans, when the Committee to Reelect the President solicited corporation executives for $50,000 each and raked in $1.7 million in cash. But it's bad enough.
Nothing is simple when it comes to campaign finance. Some useful proposals for reform are in the air. But something else should come first: restraint and a sense of limits on the part of politicians and PACs, legislators and lobbyists. The lobbyist who wadded up the Abdnor trick-or-treat letter had exactly the right idea.