The following editorial appeared in the
San Jose Mercury News on Wednesday, 12-9-98
If only Republican indignation about the
conduct of Bill Clinton's 1996 presidential campaign were transformed
into Republican zeal for campaign finance reform. Instead, GOP
leaders in Congress continue to lash Attorney General Janet Reno
for not seeking special prosecutors while they squelch reforms
of the campaign laws that so ineffectively prevented the Democratic
spending spree they deplore.
On Monday, Reno declined to seek the appointment
of an independent counsel to look into Clinton's role in the Democratic
Party's advertising campaign in the 1996 election. Previously,
she had declined to seek one to investigate Vice President Al
Republicans are squawking, but Reno is right,
on this narrow question.
An audit by the Federal Elections Commission
staff in August argued that the Democratic campaign erased the
line between so-called hard money contributions to specific candidates
and soft money contributions to the party. Hard money contributions
are limited as to amount, but can be spent to promote individual
candidates. Soft money contributions are not limited, but may
be used only to promote broad messages, not individuals.
The Democratic advertising campaign, funded
by soft money, was designed to promote Clinton's re-election and
was coordinated with him and his campaign staff, the FEC audit
said. It proposed that the Clinton campaign repay $7 million of
the public funds the campaign had received.
Unfortunately for Republicans, any contention
that Clinton won by cheating is undercut by the FEC audit's other
recommendation: The Bob Dole campaign should repay $17.7 million.
Reno's job was to determine whether there
were grounds for a criminal prosecution, as opposed to civil penalties
that the FEC might levy. She needed evidence that Clinton deliberately
broke the law.
It wasn't there. The Clinton campaign sought and followed the advice of attorneys that the ads were legal. Last week, a
bipartisan majority of the FEC members, as
opposed to the staff, said it was not clear that the ads broke
the rules, and that FEC previous rulings in this area had created
confusion. How could Reno propose to prosecute on that?
Reno's finding should not be considered exoneration
of the Democratic campaign generally. Other aspects of it, including
the possible receipt of illegal foreign contributions, continue
to merit investigation.
In the meantime, Congress can revive campaign
finance reform that would end the soft money charade, and it could
give the Federal Elections Commission teeth.
Republicans have been the primary impediment
to reform. They don't need Janet Reno to start cleaning up this
(c) 1998, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose,
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune