House weighs fund to fight redistricting

December 04, 1990|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Even as the Senate agonizes over alleged campaign finance lapses in the "Keating Five" case, House Democrats are set to vote today on a proposal permitting unlimited contributions to special funds set up by members to fight redistricting plans next year.

With the completion of the 1990 census, scores of congressional districts in several large states will be radically reshaped or abolished. Incumbents are particularly concerned about partisan line-drawing that could cost them their seats.

"This is a very sensitive process, and some of our members have expressed a concern that they will be victimized if they don't have the money to pay for legal challenges" to redistricting plans, said a Democratic leadership aide, who also predicted that the proposal would be passed today by the Democratic caucus. After that, it would have to be voted on by the full House.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause, expressed deep concern about the proposal.

"My view is that it's outrageous to be passing a proposal that would open the door to unlimited contributions," Mr. Wertheimer said.

The Senate Ethics Committee's investigation of the five senators in the Keating case stems in part from large and unchecked contributions made to them by Arizona real estate magnate Charles H. Keating Jr.

Federal Election Commission rules now permit members to dip into their campaign funds to pay legal fees associated with their political activities -- including redistricting.

But individual contributions to campaign funds are limited to $1,000 and political action committees (PACs) are restricted to $5,000.

The proposal to the Democratic caucus by Representative Martin Frost, D-Texas, would put no limit on amounts given to the redistricting funds by individuals or by PACs.

Also, members would have to disclose such contributions only once a year rather than quarterly.

Mr. Frost, who chaired a committee that is recommending a number of changes in House and party caucus rules, insisted yesterday that his proposal simply "clarifies some of the confusion over limits on gifts to members now imposed by House rules. We want to make sure there is no doubt that such contributions are not gifts and therefore not a violation of our rules."

William Pitts, a top aide to House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill., complained that Mr. Frost's proposal was an effort to "gain partisan advantage and has no place in House rules."

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