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Weekly Alibi Coffees Are Just Talk

Real Campaign Finance Reform Continues to Elude Nation

By Angie Drobnic

NOVEMBER 10, 1997:  The banality of campaign financing came home to New Mexico this week, and what a sorry picture it was. It started on Tuesday, when The Albuquerque Tribune printed an editorial from a national columnist, an editorial vehemently opposing the nomination of New Mexican Kevin Gover to head up the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Why? Because, the article said, Gover attended one of those scary White House "coffees." Hence, he must be corrupt and buying his way into the Clinton administration.

Never mind the fact that the author of said editorial, The New York Times'William Safire, is a freakish, right-wing hack with a long reputation of ignoring the facts to pursue an almost religious crusade against Bill Clinton. The fact is that, yes, Gover has worked for gaming tribes. But his attendance at a White House coffee many months ago hardly means he or anyone else "bought" the office. Most people concede that the job for which Gover's been nomin-ated--to head up the Bureau of Indian Affairs--is one of the toughest ones in government. Most of Safire's article was an attack on Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and had no connection to Gover or anything he's done anyway.

But there's a larger problem at work here. The Senate and Washington's media have been harping away at potential campaign violations on the part of the Clinton administration for many months. Whether the coffees and phone calls are legal or not is debatable; they certainly don't pass the smell test. But the laws themselves are muddled. The press is nailing Clintonites for making fundraising calls from the White House based on a law passed in 1883 that prohibits raising money within federal offices. Many legal scholars believe the law was intended to stop the shakedown of federal employees for political donations, not to keep office holders from seeking money from non-employees. Regardless, does anyone believe that Washington office holders of both parties don't do this? Does it seem realistic that no office holder has been prosecuted under this law, ever? Does anyone doubt that, if we had a two-term Republican president in office, the same hearings would be held, except with the Democrats on the other side of the table? Do our national leaders think we're stupid?

The tragedy of this waste of time is that by focusing on the specifics of shady campaign practices, the Congress is allowing such shenanigans to continue. How? By not focusing on and passing meaningful campaign reform. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill died in the Senate this year--perhaps because none of our senators really wanted it in the first place. If they put all the time working on passing a reform law that they've put into investigating those asinine "coffees," something might change. But they didn't, and it won't. And chances for any reform to be passed by 1998 are dismal at best.

Sadly, the national press and pundits like Safire have bought into Clinton's and Congress' shenanigans--hook, line and sinker. They cover each nuance of the coffees with bated breath, reporting whatever the senate committee finds. Meanwhile, real reform eludes us, and we can be sure to be treated to more grand investigations of endless minutiae. Good luck in Washington, Mr. Gover. You're going to need it.

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