Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Despite Reform Efforts, Politics Still a Money Game Campaign Cash Chase Goes On

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Despite Reform Efforts, Politics Still a Money Game Campaign Cash Chase Goes On

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Al Gore and George W. Bush raise millions of dollars, setting records along the way, even as they talk about campaign fund-raising abuses and a need for reforming the rules.

The bottom line: It's big-money politics as usual, a quarter-century after Watergate changes were supposed to clean things up.

Texas Gov. Bush, the presumptive Republican nominee, has raised more money than any other presidential candidate. Vice President Gore, the Democratic rival who faces continuing criticism of his fund-raising practices during the 1996 election, touts his own plan to change the way campaigns are financed. At the same time, the Republican and Democratic parties have set new highs for raising "soft money," the unregulated contributions from unions, corporations and individuals.

The chase for campaign cash never stops.

Today, President Clinton, Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who's running for a U.S. Senate seat in New York, are scheduled to share the stage at a fund-raising gala in New York City, a week after Clinton and Gore appeared together at a Hollywood event. The two Democratic fund-raisers together were adding an estimated $4 million to party coffers.

And Wednesday, a Bush-headlined black-tie gala in Washington for the Republican National Committee is expected to bring in at least $15 million -- a record one-day haul.

Many think the system that was supposed to have been cleaned up after Watergate has gone astray.

The tactics used to pump record amounts of money into political campaigns were unknown when President Ford signed a Watergate-inspired bill in 1974. The new law added disclosure requirements, limited donors to giving candidates $1,000 each per election, and created the Federal Election Commission to enforce the rules.

Five years later, Congress voted to allow corporations and labor unions, though banned from contributing directly to federal campaigns, to make unlimited "soft money" contributions to the political parties. That started a trickle that has become a flood. These "soft money" funds were at the heart of the 1996 campaign finance abuses, when foreign sources pumped millions of dollars into Democratic coffers. Gore friend and veteran fund-raiser Maria Hsia recently was convicted of arranging more than $100,000 in illegal donations.

Bush has undercut another Watergate innovation: partial public financing for presidential candidates who agree to limit spending. Bush rejected the taxpayers' money and instead set new marks for campaign cash by raising more than $80 million through April 6.

While playing under the current rules, Gore and Bush call for changing the game. Gore, who admits to mistakes during the 1996 re-election campaign, proposed an endowment with tax-deductible contributions to fund congressional elections, free airtime for candidates and a ban on soft money. …

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