Money Trail Opener

Chronology: Money In Politics

Coffee With The President

Where The Money Was Spent

Was There A Payback?

The Investigations

The White House Defense

Does Everybody Do It?

Running For Dollars

Campaign Law Loopholes

Campaign Sweets

An Experiment In Cincinnati

Is Money Speech?

Poll: Most Say Clinton Acted Illegally Or Unethically

Roadblocks To Reform

Key Terms

Index of VXtreme Video-On-Demand

Related Stories

Let's Go To The Videotape (TIME, 10/13/97)

Campaign-Finance Fight Cools Friendships (CQ, 9/29/97)

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'Toons

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Mike Luckovich: Gingrich And Lott In The Finance Muck

Bill Mitchell: Janet Reno's Tempest

Bob Lang: Dems Cash and Carey?

The Money Trail: Democracy For Sale

Looking For Loopholes? Let Me Show The Way

By Brooks Jackson/CNN

WASHINGTON (Oct. 7) -- So you want to be a Washington player? Get next to the powerful? Lobby for a tax break, or a nice ambassador's job? If you've got money, I can help.

First you need to get around that law they enacted back in '74, after the Watergate scandal, the one limiting what you can give and the access you can buy.

But that's no problem! Think of me as your guide through the loopholes.

Legally, you can give only $1,000 to a candidate for president, Senate or House. But your spouse can give, too. And both of you can give in both elections -- primary and general. And if they're old enough, your kids can give too.

See how easy?

But to run with the big dogs you need to give real money. For that you don't give to the candidate. You write your check to the party.

To the national political parties, you can give $20,000 each year in what's called "hard money," funds that can be spent directly on a presidential or congressional campaign. Spouses can, too.

Now we're getting serious.

The party can spend all that money buying TV ads for your candidate, almost like giving directly. One qualification: The party can't promise all your money will go for your candidate. Promising would be illegal. But candidates are grateful, and that's all you need.

Forty grand is the maximum a couple can give to the party's hard money account, but want to give more? Easy! Just give to the party's soft money account. A hundred grand is nice. It's outside those federal limits, but it still can benefit your candidate -- indirectly.

Soft money also pays the bills for office space and supplies and for voter drives benefitting both federal and state candidates -- up to 80 percent paid for with soft money.

The latest in loopholes

Lately, the parties even spend soft money for TV ads, which is what candidates really like. They're called "issue ads," representing the very latest in loopholes.

We compared two ads used during the 1996 election: A genuine Clinton campaign commercial from last year, 100 percent paid for with hard money, and a Democratic party "issue ad," mostly paid for with soft money.

All that was missing from the party ad were the words "vote for" Clinton. Otherwise, the ads were exactly the same.

More loopholes!

With soft money, you can give a million. Anything. You can give corporate money or union money

I can even show you how to get a tax deduction.

Remember Charles Keating? Bailing out his savings and loan cost taxpayers $2 billion. He gave $850,000 to charities registering black people to vote. He got a deduction plus the thanks of a Democratic senator, because 90 percent of blacks vote Democratic. Democrats still use that gimmick.

Republicans got deductions for giving to Newt Gingrich's televised college course. Gingrich got in ethics trouble, but the IRS didn't take away the deductions.

I could go on, but trust me: if you've got the money, and you want to buy access, there's a loophole for you.







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