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BEWARE THE GREAT GOP MONEY ADVANTAGE

The marvelous state of the U.S. economy and the relative peace of the world belie a suggestion that the Clinton-Gore administration is the dumbest ever to hold power here.

But it is hard to imagine another group as politically inept or as devoid of any sense of public relations as Clinton and Gore have been in the furor over their fund-raising.

How could they not understand that this country has a thing about "tapes," and goes bonkers over evidence that recordings of actions by top officials have been suppressed or altered? Why didn't Clinton make the White House coffee tapes public months ago, saying, "We obviously wouldn't tape-record ourselves committing crimes"?

But now millions of Americans expect the worst as Republicans cry "Shame!" and press their demands for special prosecutors.

I personally am bored as I see the hypocrisy of these same Republicans thwarting congressional efforts to set firm rules about "soft money" and other political fund raising. I am especially concerned that these loud assaults on Clinton and Gore seem not to have created a public outcry for strict campaign-finance laws.

The Republicans are making out like burglars only because Democratic incompetence has almost blinded normal Americans regarding these fundamental facts about our political system:

The Republican Party is unquestionably and unashamedly the party of rich individuals and corporations because the GOP favors them with regard to tax laws, labor rules, regulations and just about everything else. Thus, the GOP naturally draws in far more campaign money than the Democrats, a situation that will never change as the huge gap between the rich and poor widens in this country.

Candidates with a great money advantage generally win elections because television time, newspaper ads and everything else about a campaign are outrageously costly. It was partly money, not just warmth and charm, that allowed Republicans to gain control of Congress. Still, the sad truth is that this is not "the best Congress that money can buy."

Republicans claim that their big donors are exercising "free speech" that ought not be snuffed out by some new campaign-finance law. Without legal restrictions, Democrats seeking to close the imbalance in campaign funds have put the squeeze on labor unions, well-heeled immigrants, nuns and just about everyone else with a loose dollar. And the original source of those dollars was not always examined.

How do we change this system that clearly undermines democracy?

I don't expect the reigning Republicans to legislate away their natural ability to draw more "free speech" than the Democrats. I expect them to exploit the Clinton-Gore "scandals" to the point where they tie the hands of every Democratic fund-raiser in the land. That, too, is called fair in politics.

But you and I cannot afford to get suckered to the point where we permit this unfair money advantage to become a greater curse on our electoral system.

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