Clinton, Gore
fickle over campaign
finance reform

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

We were sort of wondering when the Clinton administration, now that it has had its Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion and embraced campaign finance reform, would get around to noticing Cincinnati.

After five solid years of grubbing for millions with all the moral and ethical discernment of a sea anemone, Bill Clinton and his good friend and possible successor, Al Gore, have gotten religion on the subject of campaign finance reform.

No more monkey business. They mean it this time.

Except, that is, for the occasional foray into Middle America to milk the local fat cats for the good ol' Democratic National Committee (DNC), like the event Mr. Gore attended in Covington two weeks ago.

Mr. Gore scurried to Cincinnati two weeks ago not because he always wanted to see the Italian Festival in Newport, but because, across the Licking in Covington, there were some big fish to fry at a $10,000 per couple DNC luncheon.

Not three days after Mr. Gore helped rake in a bundle of campaign money here as soft as a batch of freshly baked cookies, White House press secretary Mike McCurry was telling Washington reporters about how the Clinton administration was interested in finding a court case to glom onto in order to challenge Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared campaign spending limits to be unconstitutional.

Battling Buckley v. Valeo before the Supreme Court, the administration reckons, would be just the ticket for showing the Clinton administration's fealty to the cause of campaign finance reform.

Mr. McCurry pointed out that, since Buckley v. Valeo was decided in 1976, the amount of money going into and out of the American political system has increased 700 percent. He did not mention how much of that can be accounted for by two Clinton/Gore campaigns and the DNC. The Justice Department, Mr. McCurry said, is looking for ''the right case to make that test.''

Listening to Clinton administration officials clamoring for campaign finance reform reminds us of an old George Raft movie, where the cold-blooded psychopath pleads with the authorities to ''stop me before I kill again.''

Nonetheless, the Justice Department may get its chance. It just so happens that Cincinnati has such a case winding its way through the federal courts.

After Cincinnati adopted its campaign spending limit law two years ago, which restricted spending to about $140,000 per candidate in council race, Republican council wanna-be John Kruse filed suit in U.S. District Court here, claiming the spending limit was unconstitutional under Buckley v. Valeo.

U.S. District Court Judge Herman Weber agreed; and now the case is before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a decision will come later this year.

The National Voting Rights Institute, a campaign finance reform organization hired by the city to carry its ball in court, has already signed up attorneys general and chief election officers from 32 states to file briefs in support of Cincinnati's law. Even the government of Guam, where you'd think they'd be more worried about tsunamis, has chimed in on Cincinnati's side.

But the city's lawyers want that Justice Department friend-of-the-
court brief to help make their case, should the Cincinnati case be heard by the Supreme Court.

Reasoned arguments from the Clinton administration on how campaign spending and fund-raising has gotten out of control and is perverting the American political process just might impress the solemn Supremes.

That is, if they can stop laughing long enough to read it.

Howard Wilkinson's politics column appears Sundays.