- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

First, Santa Claus. Then, the bull market. Now, campaign-finance reformers. According to Sen. Russell Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, 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 Mr. Feingold after a "closed-door shouting match" last week with Mrs. Clinton, first reported by the New York Daily News, that turned a private, fairly dry Democratic forum on the impact of the landmark fund-raising legislation into a public, fairly juicy spat. "You're not living in the real world," Mrs. Clinton is said to have "screamed" at Mr. 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," Mr. Feingold later told the Associated Press.

Maybe it's best to reserve judgment on which senator holds the more compelling claim on reality: the gentlelady whose surname is synonymous with soft-money corruption, or the gentleman who sees purification in legislated censorship. Mr. 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 Mrs. Clinton's staff has reserved judgment. Maybe it was just too hard, almost, for staffers to imagine Mrs. Clinton the very picture of senatorial collegiality, lo, these many months even becoming involved in an intra-party contretemps. Of course, anyone familiar with the context of this little senatorial scrum would instantly understand what the Daily News dubbed Mrs. Clinton's "first big blow-up with a colleague."

It seems that in the course of a presentation on the impact of the soft-money ban and the Federal Elections Commission regulations, which Mr. 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 Daily 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 theoretically be 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 Mr. Feingold protested, oddly, that such an interpretation of his law was "not rational," Mrs. Clinton simply "hammered him" "clobbered him," was another rather evocative description explaining how 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. Mr. Feingold said Mrs. Clinton later apologized to him, although for what either attacking his 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," Mr. Feingold later said. "It's going to sound phony."

But look on the bright side: It's also going to sound consistent.

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