President Clinton is likely to dodge another bullet. Make that
With the House Judiciary Committee, Federal Elections
and Justice Department investigating presidential abuses of
campaign-finance laws, this triple threat may seem hard to survive.
But campaign-finance experts say that, because of the vagaries of
campaign-finance law and exhaustiveness of previous investigations,
Mr. Clinton is likely to withstand this latest challenge.
"If the president is in trouble, it won't be over campaign
financing," says Jan Baran, general counsel for the 1988 Bush-
Although the accusations cover a lot of ground, they revolve
around two themes:
Campaign advertising. Attorney General Janet Reno must decide by
Monday whether to appoint an independent counsel to investigate
Clinton for violating spending limits related to his 1996 political
advertising. But even if she does appoint an outside investigator,
prosecuting Clinton would be next to impossible. The election law is
so complex and vague, say campaign-finance experts, that violators
are hard to prosecute. "It's not a prosecutable offense," says
Kenneth Gross, former chief of enforcement for the FEC, who advises
Republicans and Democrats on campaign law.
Meanwhile, Ms. Reno could be influenced by the Federal Elections
Commission, whose commissioners met yesterday to review an FEC
The audit recommended that the 1996 campaigns of Bill Clinton and
Dole repay the federal government millions of dollars because of
advertising spending violations.
But for political and legal reasons, the commissioners were likely
to back off from the audit recommendations, say former and present
commissioners. Reno had subpoenaed an early draft of the audit to
help decide the independent counsel question. If commissioners
downplay the audit, it could ease pressure off Reno to appoint a
Foreign contributions. The issue is whether 1996 contributions
from Indonesian and Chinese donors to the Democratic National
Committee were illegal, if they resulted in federal policies
favorable to the foreign donors, and how much the president was
involved in the donations.
"The only issues that seem to have potential saliency are the
foreign contributions, and that's become extremely murky," says Mr.
Baran, citing a US district judge's ruling this fall. According to
the ruling, foreign donations of "soft money" - donations to
political parties as opposed to specific campaigns - aren't illegal,
though the Justice Department is appealing. …