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Jewish World Review July 25, 2002 / 16 Menachem-Av, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Consumer Reports

Hillary fights hard for soft money | First, Santa Claus, then, the bull market -- now, it turns out that some of those campaign-finance reformers you hear about aren't so reform-minded after all. According to Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., a "core group" of five or six Senate Democrats -- including New York's Hillary Rodham Clinton -- is trying to figure out how to get around the McCain-Feingold ban on "soft money" campaign contributions that takes effect Nov. 6.

So concluded Feingold after a "closed-door shouting match" last week with Clinton, D-N.Y., first reported by the New York Daily News, that turned a private, fairly dry Democratic forum on the impact of the landmark fundraising legislation into a public, fairly juicy spat. "You're not living in the real world!" Clinton is said to have "screamed" at Feingold before a lunchtime gathering of Democratic senators. "I picked up my glass of water and said I do live in the real world, and I'm doing just fine in it," Feingold later told the Associated Press.

Maybe it's best to reserve judgment on which senator holds the more compelling claim on reality: the gentlewoman from New York whose surname is synonymous with soft-money corruption, or the gentleman from Wisconsin who sees purification in legislated censorship. Feingold, however, was perceptive enough to describe the fracas as "a troubling display for a party that claims to be for trying to clean up the system." A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle found this characterization of the Democratic Party "perplexing," but Clinton's staff members have reserved judgment. Maybe it was just too hard, almost, for them to imagine Clinton -- the very picture of senatorial collegiality, lo, these many months -- even becoming involved in an intra-party contretemps. Of course, anyone becoming familiar with the context of this little senatorial scrum would instantly understand what the News dubbed as Clinton's "first big blow-up with a colleague."

In the course of a presentation on the impact of the soft-money ban and the Federal Elections Commission regulations, which Feingold would like to see tightened, Democratic campaign lawyer Robert Bauer warned that senators could face criminal charges for seeking "general political support" from an audience that might subsequently make soft-money donations. "It was also suggested," the News reported, "that political events, like President Clinton's infamous White House coffees for big donors, could theoretically be criminalized under the new law." (They could have been criminalized under the old law, but that's another story.)

Did someone say "White House coffees"? Them's fightin' words for the junior senator from New York by way of Pennsylvania Avenue. When Feingold protested, oddly, that such an interpretation of his law was "not rational," Clinton simply "hammered him." ("Clobbered him" was another particularly evocative description of her approach, the vigor of which may have had something to do with the fact that Feingold was the one Democrat to vote against dismissing charges against Bill Clinton during the former president's senate impeachment trial.) Clinton went on to explain how it was that she knew from experience that, "political adversaries ... would make senators' lives hell," that allegations and suits might come to nothing, but only after considerable political and financial cost.

Ouch. Feingold said Clinton later apologized to him, although for what -- attacking his pet campaign-finance legislation, or voting for it in the first place -- he didn't specify. "It's not surprising, but I don't know how they think they're going to get away with it, in a closed room, trying to figure out every way they can to keep raising soft money, and then publicly act like they're getting rid of it," Feingold later said. "It's going to sound phony."

But look on the bright side: At least it's going to sound consistent.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West