Fund-Raising Panel Changes Course
Senators investigating campaign finance 'take a step back' to take stock
By Thomas H. Moore/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (Sep. 23) -- The Senate's campaign-finance hearings set off in a new direction today, taking testimony from two renowned talking heads in the hopes of helping the panel "temporarily take a step back and look at what we've been dealing with here," according to chairman Fred Thompson.
"But the idea that we have definitely shut down, that we have stopped the investigation" into alleged illegalities "is just simply not accurate," said the Tennessee Republican.
Today's hearing was cut short early after a parliamentary move by Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) forced all Senate hearings to suspend for the day.
The Governmental Affairs Committee's new path of looking at the legal practice of giving soft money is just a temporary tack, says Thompson. "This is coming at a time when we're ... going to be considering legislation on the floor of the Senate that's relative to all this," he said. "So we came up with the novel idea that it would probably be appropriate to consider some of these things before they became moot."
The panel today reached into Washington's think tanks and pulled out Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the centrist Brookings Institution. In addition to being respected political scientists, they are both masters of the sound bite.
Thompson said Mann and Ornstein would put the information the hearings have produced so far in context. The scholars will "help us look at some of the questions that have arisen, in regard to soft money, with regard to independent expenditures, with regard to whether or not this is a matter of changing the system, or it's simply a matter of enforcement," the Tennessee Republican said.
Mann told the panel that getting rid of unregulated "soft money" would "remove the primary incentive behind most of the offensive behavior" seen by the panel during its hearings this summer.
He and Ornstein did not get much time to talk during the abbreviated session, as much of the morning was eaten up by senators' duelling statements over what these new hearings mean. Democrats lauded what they said was the committee's move into an irrevocable "second phase"; Republicans insisted that the initial investigation continues and the panel will return to it.
Thompson warned that if the same amount of partisan "meanness" surfaces in the next few weeks as he's seen already, this phase will be "much shorter than everybody thinks."
"Let's see if we can't come up with some things we can agree on by the end of the day," Thompson implored his colleagues.
Thompson said at the session's outset that there was plenty of time to return to the issues of foreign money and alleged Democratic fund-raising excesses that kicked off the public hearings in July. And while the Senate is expected to be in recess during November, "if [hearings] are called for, they will be done," Thompson vowed.
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