Fresh Hope for Fat Cats
  The New York Times | Editorial

  Monday 28 July 2003

  The pathetic record of the Federal Election Commission as the designated watchdog against the ravages of big-money politics is only growing worse. Scott Thomas, the stand-out commissioner on the F.E.C. who wants to clamp down on abuses, is to be removed in a stunning decision by the leaders of his own Democratic Party. Mr. Thomas, who is avid about the new McCain-Feingold law's attempt to control the money sluiceway, is to be replaced by Robert Lenhard, a lawyer for the labor movement who was part of the effort to block that law.

  This wrongheaded nomination by the Congressional Democratic leaders, Senator Tom Daschle and Representative Nancy Pelosi, seems prompted by the resentment of party forces seething over the fact that Democrats who fought more than Republicans to pass McCain-Feingold also suffered more in the last elections. The law banned the abuse of unlimited "soft money" donations from unions, corporations and fat cats, and Bush Republicans have taken a sizable lead in raising the alternative "hard money" donations.

  The Democrats' purge of Mr. Thomas is a bouquet to Big Labor. Mr. Lenhard claims he will fight to enforce the law on the six-member board, divided equally between the two major parties. Yet there is no replacing Mr. Thomas, who complained vehemently when his fellow commissioners first took it upon themselves to create the soft-money loophole. This let their party leaders court big spenders willing to fork over large donations in an effort to secure inner-sanctum access in government.

  In a brazen nod to that political piñata past, the F.E.C. has just tailored an exception in the new soft-money ban for the forthcoming presidential conventions. This is akin to sparing speakeasies during Prohibition. Happy days are here again, for Republicans and Democrats alike. They can be unhampered glad-handers in begging without limit to finance their anticlimactic revels. The F.E.C. ruling came after the parties pleaded that hard times were threatening the conventions' financing. We only wish voters had the power to peer beyond the platform planks and boilerplate next year into the hospitality suites in New York and Boston where the true political influence will freely flow.


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