Comment in the News
As Heard on NBC's 'Meet the Press,'
Charles G. LaBella, former chief of the Justice Department's campaign finance task force, wrote a memo to Attorney General Janet Reno arguing that an independent counsel should be appointed to investigate the fund-raising roles of President Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Vice President Gore. Reno ignored the recommendation. LaBella's report was recently leaked to the press.
After he presented his report, LaBella transferred to San Diego as acting United States attorney, then he resigned a year ago. The career prosecutor was asked on NBC
News' �Meet the Press' on April 2 what must be done to fix the campaign finance system.
HOST TIM RUSSERT: Chuck La Bella came to Washington, wrote a memo recommending an independent counsel, and it was ignored. If you could wave a wand this morning, what would you do to clean up our campaign finance system?
CHARLES LA BELLA: Well, I think there are several things you can do. I think, first off, you can encourage the major parties to engage in a little self-regulation and self-control, to move the game from the sidelines to the middle of the field. I mean, we have criminal laws that are bright lines between what is legal and what is illegal conduct. Most Americans don�t live their lives and engage in business on the sidelines. They try to play in the middle of the field. Most U.S. companies and most international companies now have compliance departments and compliance programs that take them from the sidelines and put them in the middle of the field. Their objective is to make money. And General Electric, for example, has probably got the benchmark on compliance programs in the United States. Many, many industries have followed. They play now in the middle of the field.
At the end of the �96 election, we saw the candidates'you know, Clinton and Gore�in the end zone, and they won. They won the game, but if you look down on their shoes, they had chalk all over their shoes because they danced right along the sideline, right into the end zone. The fact is, the Department of Justice spent four years and still is spending time reviewing the videos to see who stepped out of bounds and who didn�t step out of bounds on their teams. That's not the way it should be. Both parties should move everything back to center. They should take a higher ground, they should regulate themselves. They should have compliance programs in place to avoid this thing.
And they�re going to tell you tomorrow in their press releases that they do have them, but they were a bad joke in 1996. They spent less on compliance than they did on any sort of fund-raising. They didn�t have compliance officers with any clout. They didn�t have the right resources in the right places, people who could do really good investigations and have the authority to turn back donations.
And we saw what President Clinton said about how much it costs the DNC [Democratic National Committee] after the fact. Well, that's true. An ounce of prevention would have been worth a pound of cure here. With a little prevention, they could have avoided that problem; they could have avoided responding to all those subpoenas if they had a compliance program in place. So they should take the higher ground without the need of legislation. They should regulate themselves.
Secondly, I think, the regulations can be massaged, they can be tightened up. There are too many loopholes right now in the law.
Number one, the FEC. [Federal Election Commission] You have an organization�and I say in my report, it's impotent by design. It's designed to be impotent. It's designed to be a paper tiger. They have several people at the top of the organization, and it's politically balanced so nothing ever gets done. Yes, it's safe. Neither party is going to have its ox gored by that bureaucracy because nothing ever gets done. The people at the working level in the FEC, they�re good people and they really want to do the job. They just can�t get the job done because they have to have a political consensus from on top.
Secondly, they don�t have the funds to do it, they don�t have the staff to do it. So we have no administrative framework in which to enforce the campaign financing laws right now. FEC has exclusive administrative and civil jurisdiction over these. Department of Justice cannot touch it civilly, and yet, we have this organization that's powerless, that is basically a fig leaf, it's a facade, and we need to beef that up. So those are two places where I would start.
I also think the campaign financing laws have to be
revised. There are misdemeanors. They need�if we�re going to take this seriously, we have to make them felonies. We have to look at the statute of limitations that are in the campaign financing laws. If you or I commit a crime, a conspiracy, it's a five-year statute of limitations. Why is it a three-year statute of limitations for campaign financing violations? It's a distinct advantage to someone who's going to commit a campaign financing violation. The reporting requirements have to be tightened up, they have to be better. It should be online. This nonsense about filling out these paper reports and filing them 60, 90, 120 days after the election is over, it doesn�t serve the public at all.
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