- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2000

Claude Rains may have been "shocked, shocked" to find that there was gambling in Humphrey Bogart's casino in "Casablanca," but he had nothing on President Clinton when it comes to acting ability. At Wednesday's press conference, Mr. Clinton brazenly deplored the campaign- finance scandal that has whirled around his 1996 re-election campaign almost from the moment the election was in the Democrats' bag. "I was outraged when I found that the system for checking the backgrounds of contributors and things like that had been dismantled without my knowledge or approval," said the man who invited all and sundry to coffee in the map room and nights in the Lincoln bedroom for a hefty fee. He "was as appalled as the next person" to learn that his own campaign had accepted illegal contributions said the president who been collecting money hand over fist from Indonesian banking moguls and Chinese arms-traders.

Just when Vice President Gore's choice of campaign-finance reform as the centerpiece of his election campaign appeared to be the height of chutzpah, along comes his boss and tops it all. But Mr. Clinton at least thought Mr. Gore would make a "good messenger" for such reform. This comes from the master of hypocrisy himself.

This week, Mr. Gore proposed a $7.1 billion taxpayer-subsidized "Democracy Endowment" to finance all general election campaigns for Congress. This is rich, when you consider Mr. Gore's own role in the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign in 1996. He was the star attraction for a money-laundering operation that criminalized, of all things, a Buddhist temple. It was Mr. Gore who illegally solicited hard-money contributions from his White House office. It was Mr. Gore and the DNC who allowed Justice Department investigators to assume that no hard-money contributions had been raised here. And when an incriminating strategy memo belatedly surfaced, it was Mr. Gore who contemptuously told the FBI that excessive ice-tea consumption required him to visit the rest room while the hard-money solicitations were discussed. The Washington Times has recently revealed that the White House failed to tell the Justice Department and several congressional committees that computer glitches prevented the administration from handing over e-mail messages relating to Mr. Gore's fund-raising activities.

Raising arrogance to a new level, Mr. Gore pointed in his speech to his own "scars" to prove his sincerity. Is he really an "imperfect messenger"? Bonnie and Clyde would have as much moral standing as advocates of prison sentence reform for bank robbers.

Mr. Gore's reform proposal shows scant respect for the First Amendment. Not only would the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill, which he pledged would be "the first domestic legislation I send to the Congress on my first day in office," drastically reduce the ability of interest groups to participate in the American political system. Mr. Gore's proposal would encourage broadcasters to reject the dreaded issue ads and require them to provide free time to any candidates affected by issue ads paid for by citizens so bold as to seek a voice in the political process.

Mr. Gore's plan depends on these same despised "special interests" to contribute tax-deductible money to his Democracy Endowment. Supervised by "trustees" appointed by him and confirmed by the Senate, the endowment would then distribute the funds to congressional candidates who promised not to accept any other funding for the general election. This sure sounds like an incumbent-protection racket, which would give out equal portions to well-known incumbents and relatively unknown challengers.

Before presenting himself as the candidate of campaign reform, Mr. Gore would do well to improve his own credibility by not stonewalling investigations of his earlier fund-raising actions. In the meantime, he ought to keep his hands off the First Amendment.

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