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THE ULTIMATE FUND-RAISING QUESTION: SO WHAT?

All my life the definition of trouble has been "anything that forces you to hire a lawyer." By that definition, Vice President Gore is in double trouble, having hired two lawyers to try to ward off the naming of a special prosecutor to probe his fund-raising activities during the 1996 elections.

The likelihood grows that a special prosecutor will be named also to investigate charges that President Clinton broke federal laws as he and Gore spearheaded drives that raised some $150 million. They and the Democrats used this money to overwhelm the Republicans, who have traditionally raised big money far in excess of anything the Democrats dreamed of.

Now Attorney General Janet Reno, in moving toward special prosecutors, has raised the specter of Clinton and Gore challenging Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew as the presidential team charged with the greatest lawlessness in U.S. history.

I'm often asked how much trouble Clinton and Gore are in. I reply that even as the record piles up of comical, outrageous and even stupid Democratic excesses in grubbing money, the ultimate question is, "So what?"

Where would a prosecutor try Al Gore on charges that he broke federal laws by taking the money belts of some Buddhist nuns, or by soliciting funds while on federal property? Idaho? Some GOP enclave in Montana? There is certainly no jury to be assembled in the District of Columbia that would consider convicting Gore for doing what most people know all politicians of all parties have done, though perhaps less fervently than Gore.

But while Gore faces no risk of imprisonment, bankruptcy could be his future, given the cost of lawyers -- especially the lawyers needed in these investigations, which tend to go on and on and on -- and his claim as front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2000 could be obliterated.

As for President Clinton, can you imagine even a GOP-controlled House impeaching him for the "high crime and misdemeanor" of hustling campaign funds from the oval office? Too many House members think it ludicrous to enforce a supposed law that would require a president to run to a pay phone when he wants to talk to a big donor. Yet just facing another special prosecutor along with Kenneth W. Starr in Whitewater and other matters could do the president great harm.

The Republicans clearly are hypocrites on this business of campaign purity, and they are on a purely political mission. But Clinton and Gore have given them just enough exploitable stuff to make them believe that they can strike some blows that will carry over to the elections of 1998 and the year 2000. The Republicans seem to believe that they will not have to pay at the polls for blocking legislation that would clearly outlaw the very excesses they pretend to deplore. Having said all this, I would not want to have to pay Clinton's and Gore's legal bills, or wrestle with their nightmares.

North America Syndicate

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