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Jewish World Review Dec. 8, 2003 / 13 Kislev, 5764

Dick Morris

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Democrats have built a soft-money lifeboat


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | After battling with all their might for the soft-money ban that is included in the McCain-Feingold bill, the Democrats, led by Bill and Hillary Clinton, are subverting the purpose of the legislation, consigning it to the dustbin of campaign-finance reforms.

After McCain-Feingold passed, a funny thing happened. The Democrats discovered they weren't as good as Republicans are at raising hard money. At $2,000 per person, they could only come up with $66.5 million through the end of September of this year. In the same period, the Republicans raised $158 million.

So the Democratic Party, led by Clinton operative Harold Ickes, has catalyzed the formation of Americans Coming Together (ACT), an independent-expenditure organizations that hopes to raise and spend $94 million defeating Bush in 2004. To get it going, billionaire financier George Soros and Peter B. Lewis, chairman of Progressive Corp., each donated $10 million to the kitty.

Democrats dressed up their pursuit of soft money in previous elections as a necessary device to match Republican fundraising. Even as McCain-Feingold was passing, both parties raced to rake in all the soft contributions they could before the president signed the bill banning them.

But this current effort is not preceded by any Republican provocation. The GOP has not established the soft-money answer to ACT (although it now inevitably will do so). This evasion of the campaign-finance law is a unilateral act by the same political party that led the fight against soft money.

Just as Clinton's use of soft money in 1996 to pay for his early campaign advertisements (rejecting my advice to turn down federal financing and its limits on hard-money spending) was the death knell of the post-Watergate reforms, so ACT dooms the newly enacted McCain-Feingold.

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It's bad enough that the new legislation allows legitimate independent groups such as the AFL-CIO on the left or the American Medical Association on the right to spend whatever they want in soft money to influence elections. But to create a phony group just for the purpose of taking soft money for campaign advertisements, amounts to a deliberate scuttling of the new reforms.

The independent-expenditure effort amounts to more than just an attempt to continue to live off the soft money the Democrats had battled to ban. It is a virtual abandonment of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as the central vehicle for the party's campaign next year. Rather than stick with the hard-money-hobbled DNC, with all its limitations, reporting requirements and donation limits, Ickes and Co. are counting on ACT to free them from those bounds.

In effect, they have created an off-the-shelf, unregulated, uncontrolled, soft-money vehicle to run the campaign in 2004. Without the reporting obligations that the DNC has, the independent-expenditure organization can fund anything it wants - overt or covert - to advance the party agenda in 2004.

Soros's and Lewis's donations represent the most aggressive attempt by one or two men to take over the political system with their money since Steven Forbes tried it in 1996 and H. Ross Perot in 1992. But those two efforts at least had the saving grace of ego behind them. They were efforts by individuals to use their own wealth to achieve their political ambitions. The Soros and Lewis efforts are designed to use extraordinary wealth to control the outcome of democratic elections.

Where Ickes is, Bill and Hillary are never far behind. Harold would never have launched this effort without the backing, support, encouragement and perhaps the suggestion of the Clintons. With Howard Dean about to take over the Democratic Party machinery, the Clintons need an alternative vehicle to exercise control over the apparatus. They need a slush fund to channel money to favored candidates and to pick up the tab for their expenses.

DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, while always willing, is limited in what he can raise in hard money, so Ickes was sent off to build a soft-money escape vehicle into which they could all pile if Dean's barbarians at the gate burst in.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business" Comment by clicking here.

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