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Major Course Change For Fundraising Inquiry

Thompson's Senate committee to also go after 'improper' as well as 'illegal' activity


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 11) -- In a major change of course, the Senate voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to expand its investigation of campaign finance to include "improper" as well as "illegal" activities.

The change came after several GOP senators made it clear at a lunchtime party caucus meeting that they would refuse to go along with their leadership's plan for a probe focusing only on illegal activity.

The bulk of the money being questioned -- so-called party-building "soft money" -- is not considered a classic political "donation" by the Justice Department and thus has far fewer laws and regulations governing how it can be collected and spent. So while some soft money activity might be judged improper, hardly any of it is clearly illegal.

"It will allow the Governmental Affairs Committee to get on with its investigation," said Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). "That was my goal today, to quit arguing over process and quit fiddling while Washington burns with story after story and get on with an appropriate and hopefully bipartisan investigation."


The change gains some things for the GOP and risks some others.

It means Fred Thompson's Governmental Affairs Committee will be able to look at the full scope of activity by the Clinton White House. Senators were concerned, said Lott, that "some of these coffees, some of these sleepovers" might have fallen outside the scope of a narrower investigation.

But it also means that GOP fund-raising tactics, which have received relatively little attention so far, could also come under scrutiny.

The tide apparently turned earlier in the day at a press conference by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who hammered at the GOP inquiry proposal, calling it full of "booby traps." "I believe the public is going to respond badly to the current resolution," Specter said. "There will be arguments as to what is legal and what is illegal."

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