Stripping the bark from the money tree

Pandora's Box: Lawsuit could highlight the campaign finance hypocrisy of both political parties.

May 08, 2000

DEMOCRATS may have done the public a favor by filing a RICO lawsuit against House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. The suit alleges the Republicans' top congressional fund-raiser has extorted money from donors and laundered it through a series of nonprofit organizations.

Should this suit go to the discovery stage, the public may get to see how utterly corrupt both parties have become in financing election campaigns.

Partisan politics was behind the Democrats' suit. Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who heads the Democratic Campaign Committee, realized that the legal action could frighten donors and reduce contributions to Mr. DeLay's political operation. More importantly, the suit might also hinder the GOP enough to allow Democrats to regain control of the House.

The best outcome would be for this case to go to the discovery stage. Each party would then be able to probe into the other's seamy fund-raising practices and spread their findings. The blizzard of negative and embarrassing publicity would put a quick halt to the most egregious practices for raising soft money -- the unrestricted donations to parties.

The suit might also display corporate America's dirty laundry. If bad publicity embarrasses these companies, they may think twice about contributing again. About three dozen corporations -- apparently fed up by the continual shakedown from both parties -- have decided not to contribute this year. Among these are General Motors, Time Warner and Allied Signal.

Starving the system might force Congress to address the soft money issue, particularly since party leaders seem intent on raising record amounts this year. Thwarting their efforts would be sure to get their attention.

If the Republicans and Democrats want corporations, unions and other groups to make donations, why not impose limits on their gifts to parties as well as to candidates? Perhaps then the DeLays and Kennedys would do a lot less shaking of corporate America's money tree.

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