BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
If you had any doubts that the system of financing political campaigns in this country is reeling out of control like a stray asteroid, you might want to check out Hillary Rodham Clinton's visit to Cincinnati on Monday.
The first lady is coming to Music Hall to raise campaign money for 1st District congressional candidate Roxanne Qualls and 6th District incumbent Ted Strickland and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), all at the same time.
Oh, yes, Mrs. Clinton will also be touring the YWCA's shelter for battered women, a visit that was tacked on to the Cincinnati trip long after the fund-raiser was planned. It is, in this age of congressional inquiries into campaign finance abuses and horror stories of Buddhist nuns writing four-figure checks, considered unseemly for the president, vice president and - or their spouses to be bouncing from city to city for the sole purpose of grubbing for campaign money.
But, rest assured, this trip is about money. Do-re-mi. And lots of it.
It is, though, a bit more complicated than most political fund-raisers in that there are three entities lining up at the trough -- the Qualls campaign, the Strickland campaign and the DCCC, which always seems to get its cut as a finder's fee.
Federal election laws limit the amount you can contribute to a campaign for federal office. If you, as an individual, write a check for $1,000 for a candidate's primary campaign and another $1,000 for the general election, you are done as far as that candidate is concerned.
That is what is known as hard money, the kind that goes directly to candidates' campaigns and is subject to contribution limits and reporting laws.
Then there is what is known as soft money, which goes to political party organizations like the DCCC and its Republican counterparts and is not regulated. So you can give as much as you want, as often as you want, and the money goes into what the political parties refer to as "party-building" activities.
Well, the Hillary Rodham Clinton fund-raiser in Cincinnati on Monday is going to be a mishmash of both.
The bean counters down at DCCC headquarters are going to go through several pairs of green eyeshades trying to figure out what is what once the big pot of money from the fund-raiser rolls in.
The DCCC had to set up a separate fund called the Ohio New Majority Fund to handle the inflow of soft and hard money. The form that was sent to potential contributors to the Hillary Rodham Clinton event by the DCCC is complicated.
It uses the current en vogue euphemisms in political circles for "hard money" and "soft money." Federal contributions is what the politicos are calling "hard money" these days; non-federal contributions is the polite term for "soft money."
It explains that federal contributions will be split down the middle between the Qualls and Strickland committees, and any portion over the federal contribution limit will suddenly become "soft money" and go to the DCCC. All non-federal contributions (in other words, great, big giant checks) will go directly to the DCCC's non-federal account.
It costs a mere $100 to get into the main event, but corporate and political action committee donors are being asked to cough up $5,000 for a private gathering, while individual "sponsors" are being dunned for $2,000 checks, so you can be certain there will be plenty of soft money -- excuse us, "non-federal" money -- for the DCCC.
If you read the rules closely, you get the impression that what we really have here is a DCCC fund-raising event, while the Qualls and Strickland campaigns are just along for the ride, gathering up whatever falls off the table.
And, oh yes, if you are not a U.S. citizen, don't forget to check the box at the bottom of the Ohio New Majority Fund form inquiring about your citizenship.
We wouldn't want any Chinese military officers trying to crash the party.
Howard Wilkinson's politics column appears on Sundays. He can be reached at 768-8388; or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org