Copyright 1995 Boston Herald Inc.
The Boston Herald
May 23, 1995 Tuesday ALL EDITIONS
SECTION: EDITORIAL; Pg. 027
LENGTH: 607 words
HEADLINE: POLITICS INSIDE/OUT;Don't revive Watergate ways
BYLINE: By Wayne Woodlief
There may be only one thing on the political planet on which Sen. John Kerry and Pat Buchanan agree: Public financing of presidential elections has to be rescued from the hypocritical bid by some Senate Republicans to sink it.
The Senate Budget Committee's scheme to abolish a voluntary $ 3 per taxpayer checkoff is due for floor debate this week.
Since four Republican senators, opposed to public financing in the past, are running, the GOP-dominated budget committee added this cynical little wrinkle: The checkoff wouldn't be eliminated until 2000.
After me, the deluge; that seemed to be the message from aides to the four - Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, Phil Gramm of Texas, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Richard Lugar of Indiana - who said they'd take the money and run in '96 but might vote to deny it to others in four years.
It's silly for budget hawks to pretend $ 300 million in presidential funds makes any dent at all in the $ 1 trillion we need to balance the budget by 2002.
The harm, Kerry said, would be so much worse, escalating the "extraordinary impact of (private) money in American politics" and bringing back the bad old days of Watergate that public financing was created to curb.
Buchanan backs up Kerry. Philosophically, Buchanan dislikes public financing. Practically, as Bay Buchanan, his sister and campaign chairwoman, admits, it's " the only way a populist candidate can win."
Precisely. For those who like their conservatism raw, there's no way Buchanan, "B-1 Bob" Dornan or Alan Keyes could even think of competing against Dole or Gramm without public funds.
The 1996 Republican race already has been deprived of some good men - Jack Kemp, Bill Bennett, Dick Cheney - because of the need to raise huge amounts of money. It kept Dan Quayle out, too.
The Budget Committee would "go back to the dark days of Watergate," said Ann McBride, president of the citizens' group Common Cause.
How bad was the influence of money in President Nixon's Watergate heyday? Consider:
Ambassadorships were virtually up for sale to the highest bidder. They didn't come cheap. The ambassador to France gave $ 303,000. It cost the ambassador to Great Britain $ 250,000, the ambassador to Luxembourg $ 300,000.
Shakedowns were bald. A Gulf Oil executive said, "I considered it considerable pressure when two Cabinet officers . . . asked me for funds. That's just a little bit different than somebody collecting for the Boy Scouts."
"In almost every aspect of Watergate, there was one common element: the flow of secret campaign cash," said Common Cause in a 1986 report.
No wonder Nixon told John Dean "It would be no problem" to raise a million dollars in hush money for the Watergate burglars to keep the lid on the "White House horrors."
Talk-show host G. Gordon Liddy, obscenely "honored" with a Freedom of Speech award by the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts, was one of the Watergate burglars.
Such an award after Liddy advised listeners to "go for a head shot" against federal agents in bulletproof vests who might darken their doors is as daffy as if an editors' society gave a freedom of the press award to Penthouse Magazine for offering to print the lunacies of the Unabomber.
Public financing has not taken all special interest influence out of politics. Big donors skirted it with $ 85 million in unrestricted donations to both national committees in 1993-1994.
But the influence of big bucks has at least been curbed. This phony "budget-cutting" device must not be allowed to let special interests back in by the front door. The back door is bad enough.