I didn’t sleep in it. The only three people I know who did, Lincoln aside, are San Francisco Mayor Willy Brown, who said on CNN the other night that the mattress was lumpy, and two friends of mine, a Republican married to a Democrat, who’ve known the Clintons since 1984. They found the experience thrilling and, years later, contributed, between them, $2,500 to his reelection. (To see what anyone contributed, and to whom, click HERE.)
This isn’t to say the President may not have come close to the line of what can and cannot be done legally to raise money — or perhaps even crossed that line. I don’t know.
But as important as that distinction is, and not meaning to dismiss it, it may nonetheless be worth looking, just as a matter of interest and perspective, if nothing else, at the big picture. In managing to raise this vast sum of money — $50 million or $100 million less than the Republicans raised — was the intention to sell out the poor and middle class, which is to say the great mass of Americans, by swapping favors in exchange for campaign contributions?
I don’t think so.
One of the most fundamental things this administration did early on, like it or not, was raise taxes on the rich by a whopping 25% or so (from a 31% top bracket to 39.6%), while redistributing a fair chunk of that dough to the working poor via the Earned Income Credit.
This was no small tinker, and of course some of you believe it was terribly wrongheaded (and may have supported my friend Steve Forbes or Senator Dole as a result). But my point is that most of the fat-cat contributors to the Democratic party favor Clinton goals that — far from holding out the prospect of lining their pockets — actually cost them money, or else have no direct effect either way.
To me, there is something fundamentally different between, say, the Doles’ long-time financial support from the tobacco industry, and Elizabeth Dole, when she was Secretary of Transportation, delaying the ban on smoking in airplanes, on the one hand . . . and the kind of support the Clintons have received from anti-tobacco activists, who don’t stand to profit personally from the restrictions on selling tobacco to kids that the Clinton administration is putting into effect.
No question: campaign finance reform is needed. And maybe, in trying to get the money to win the election to stand up for the little guys who don’t have big bucks, the President or his team were too aggressive in raising funds from those that do. (Or maybe not. I’m not an expert in the law.)
But I know that the coffee I attended wasn’t remotely about asking for money (from us) or favors (from him). It was exciting to be there, of course, because it was there. But otherwise, as the President went around the table giving each of the 15 of us a chance to make a comment or ask a question, it was a pretty sleepy affair. The mayor of Burlington, Vermont, a Wall Streeter with a yarmulke, a poor but passionate believer in equal rights for gays and lesbians, a state senator from Scranton. I can’t remember the others, although I’m sure there’s a list someplace.
Anyway, let the Congressional hearings begin. As easy as it is to agree the system stinks, it sure is hard to figure out solutions that don’t trample on the First Amendment (your right to take an ad, or post a sign on your lawn, supporting the candidate you believe in, or to join with 10,000 others to post a lot of signs and take a lot of ads). Should Ross Perot or Steve Forbes not be able to shake things up just because they’re rich? Tough questions.