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Senate, House Committees Widen Their Probes
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 10) -- After a bitter start, the Senate panel looking into campaign finance excesses has agreed to widen its probe to include conservative tax-exempt groups and Republican candidates.
Under an agreement on Wednesday, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will permit Democrats to examine whether some tax-exempt groups illegally aided GOP candidates last year.
The agreement ended an initial bout of partisan wrangling, with Democrats on the committee accusing the GOP of a too-narrow focus on President Bill Clinton's re-election campaign. Only two of the committee's first 63 subpoenas targeted Republican fund-raising.
"The level of trust among the members of the committee is growing and my optimism that we will be able to conduct a fair and comprehensive investigation is growing," Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) said.
On the House side, members of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee also have wrangled over the fund-raising probe's scope.
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), the committee's chair, was under increasing pressure from other Republicans to open up the probe to more than just the Democratic fund-raising, so he approved language which would allow the committee to expand its scope -- but not require it to do so.
"Naturally, there will be priorities in our investigation," Burton said. "Traditionally, the committee's focus has been on executive branch operations and that tradition will continue. However, that does not preclude the committee from investigating substantial evidence of improprieties within its jurisdiction."
With that political cover, he got his Republicans back in line. But Democrats remain outraged over Burton's unwillingness to give them have a say in the issuing of committee subpoenas.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told Burton: "If you have all the power to issue subpoenas and you have all the power to release the documents, you may think you won't abuse it. But power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
So far, Burton has issued more than 100 subpoenas unilaterally as part of his investigation of Democratic fund-raising last year.
Senate Democrats want to look into whether several conservative tax-exempt groups violated their tax status by working closely with the Republican National Committee (RNC) to support GOP candidates. The RNC gave more than $5 million to conservative groups before the November 1996 election.
Under the Senate panel's agreement, a subpoena that went to the RNC on Wednesday seeks information on 11 groups, including the Christian Coalition, the National Right to Life Committee and Americans For Tax Reform.
Grover Norquist of Americans For Tax Reform, which got $4.6 million in Republican money, said he would "cheerfully testify before the committee." Everything the group did was written about before the election, Norquist said.
Similarly, Republicans will get to look at whether liberal groups improperly coordinated their activities with the Democratic National Committee (DNC). A subpoena that went to the DNC seeks documents on the committee's relationship with the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association and Vote Now '96.
CNN's Bob Franken contributed to this report.
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