Let the Thompson hearings begin Campaign reform: Senate GOP finally widens probe to expose flawed big-money system.

March 13, 1997

SENATE REPUBLICANS were on the verge of making themselves rather than Clinton-Gore fund-raising the issue before coming to their senses and agreeing to a wide-scale probe of campaign financing improprieties. Both parties are now vulnerable to embarrassment and worse, which is as it should be.

The GOP turnabout may put some zip behind a reform effort that seemed all but dead despite daily headlines about White House sleepovers, foreign contributions to the Democratic National Committee and, the latest outrage: unconscionable bilking by the DNC of a land-starved Indian tribe that paid $107,000 for a Clinton coffee-klatch.

Sen. Fred Thompson, a GOP presidential prospect, now has the go-ahead for a Governmental Affairs Committee investigation not only of Democratic excesses that bordered on the illegal, but also of the soft-money frenzy that has sullied the whole American political system.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott stands rebuked, and he richly deserves it. By trying to protect unlimited contributions to both political parties, where the GOP has an undisputed edge, he was making Republican criticism of President Clinton an exercise in hypocrisy.

Mr. Clinton, ever the poster boy for chutzpah, has rubbed it in by clamoring for free television time for candidates "to help free our democracy from the grip of big money" while merrily continuing to attend fund-raisers for the soft-money he decries. Republicans were unwitting abettors of this chicanery until Senator Thompson and seven Republican colleagues said enough.

This country needs reform of outmoded campaign-financing laws that force politicians at all levels to grub for money from sources eager to exert influence. Sen. Wendell H. Ford, D-Ky., noted the other day that he would have to raise $5 million to seek re-election to his $133,000-a-year job. Instead, he is quitting. This is a situation that not only demeans those who seek elected office; it demeans the nation and skews the governmental agenda.

If it requires Thompson hearings with a daily parade of horror stories to arouse a skeptical public and goad Congress into action, then let these hearings begin.

It took Watergate to bring about the last wave of reform; this time, if Americans have learned anything, scandal rather than crisis should be sufficient.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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