Patsy Senate went eyeball-to-eyeball with campaign reform this week, and winked.
Patsy doesn't like reform, although she understands that sometimes she must appear to. Political action committees have been good to her -- they give 4 1/2 times as much money to incumbents as to challengers.
But Common Cause, the lobby that so seldom understands her, has been running around stirring up the countryside, making inflammatory remarks about how PACs distort the political system and that sort of thing.
So what if they do represent special interests -- everyone from wine merchants to insurance brokers has a PAC. As Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) put it, "PACs facilitate the political participation of hundreds of thousands of individuals who might not otherwise become involved in the election of an individual." To Patsy, it was a thrilling speech -- she had never before thought of the man from the hunt country as a populist.
So what if PACs have gone from giving $12.5 million to congressional candidates in 1974 to $100 million in 1984? Isn't rapid growth the American way? Patsy always thought so.
But there is always someone to spoil the fun, someone who has to go looking the gift horse in the mouth.
The mischief-maker was someone who has never given Patsy Senate trouble. Oklahoma Sen. David L. Boren, although a Democrat, had been a pillar to her and her beloved Ronnie on aid to the contras in Nicaragua. She thought she could count on him.
But when he began making waves about limiting PAC contributions, she found out other things about him: that as a reform candidate for governor in Oklahoma he had used a broom as a symbol, which she thought a bad sign, and that in a regrettable move to set himself above the other members of the club, had turned down all PAC money.
She was especially irritated that he chose to attach his lamentable amendment to the nuclear-waste bill. Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania, heir to the 57 Varieties fortune and chairman of the Republican Senate campaign committee, said facetiously that some wag in the Senate would doubtless make a connection between nuclear waste and PAC money.
That made Patsy nervous. Somebody might say yes, they are both piling up and they pollute the atmosphere.
She had heartburn throughout the debate. Her Republicans were extremely uncomfortable, as they tried to be for campaign reform and against doing anything about it.
Heinz was touchy, she noticed. He led the fight against Boren. He found the amendment unseemly and unconstitutional. He was struck by the indecent haste of it all -- no hearings, no deliberations.
Boren got up and said he couldn't see that he was "rushing pell-mell into the consideration of campaign reforms" in that the Senate had not had a vote on PACs in 11 years. He said that Heinz reminded him of Rip Van Winkle -- "just awakened from a long nap."
Heinz leaned over the aisle and complained privately to Boren that it was against the Senate rules for one member to hold another up to ridicule.
Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) came through for Patsy. He is chairman of the Rules Committee and thought it was extremely poor taste of Boren to trample on the Senate rules.
Even so, some of Patsy's own, especially those seeking reelection, were straying off the reservation. Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) made the appalling discovery that 12 Republicans were going to vote against tabling the bill, which would shelve it forever. He made a battlefield decision that they should all vote against tabling, so that nobody would suspect them of being on the side of big special-interest bucks in politics.
So Heinz, who had feared looking ridiculous, looked truly absurd when he got up and made the motion to table and announced that he would vote against it and hoped all his colleagues would do likewise. If he hadn't moved to table, the senators, under Patsy's intricate rules, would have had to vote for or against the bill itself, which would have put them in a terrible spot.
Then Dole pulled the Boren amendment off the floor. He hoped he had at the same time pulled the wool over the country's eyes, by making it appear that Republicans are for reform, if not excessively so.
Boren is threatening that if Patsy doesn't take action within a reasonable time, he is going to tack his amendment onto every bill that comes along. Dole made no promises. He favors a commission to study the whole problem.
Patsy loves commissions. They are like her, strong for the status quo.