Molly Ivins April 20
AUSTIN — Now they're on to something about President Clinton. Now they're talkin' about a real story. Now they're cookin' with gas.
But before we go into the details of what could be real malfeasance, let me say again: It's taken long enough.
We had yet another week of nonstories. An astonished world was informed that Clinton had given ambassadorships to big donors! Boy, I haven't been that shocked since Shirley Temple became an ornament in the world of diplomacy. Big donors getting ambassadorships — imagine that! My word! Upon my soul! USA Today managed to report this astounding news (!) as though it had never before occurred in the history of the world. At least most of the other papers did mention that they thought it was perhaps not previously unknown.
And since this astonishing new development came out of a thousand pages of documents the White House had laid upon the world, we naturally had a round of whining about these "document dumps" the White House now pulls. You ask about something, the administration provides more paper on it than can be comfortably read in an afternoon, and the next charge is that they hope to hide something by providing all this information at once.
This accusation is, of course, being made by exactly the same people who used to complain and criticize because the White House released information only in dribs and drabs. How many Sunday mornings have we spent listening to Talking Heads offer gratuitous advice to the Clintons? Lay it all out there, don't hold back, when you drib-and-drab it looks like you're hiding something, get everything out at once.
Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't — pretty much the story of Clinton's life as president.
But here's a real story. First, Time magazine tracks down a bunch of big donors whose giving patterns are suspect — that is, instead of laying a lot of money on the Democratic National Committee, they contribute in more modest chunks to state parties around the country, thus flying under the radar screen of those whose job it is to flag big contributors. One of these citizens is Vance Opperman of Dellwood, Minn., who runs a legal publishing empire. (That's not legal as in the opposite of illegal but legal meaning law books).
According to Time, in 1995 and '96, Opperman and his wife gave $353,000 to 10 state Democratic parties around the country but only $30,000 to the DNC, and only the $30,000 was reported to the Federal Election Commission.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Opperman's West Publishing Co. has lobbied the administration on several key issues during the past three years. According to Time, Opperman approached Clinton at a fund-raiser in the fall of '94 and asked, "Can you get the Justice Department off my back?"
Shortly before that event, the Justice Department had announced that it was exploring ways to establish an on-line legal research system that would compete with West Publishing, which dominates the legal publishing industry. After the event, Opperman met with Mack McLarty and Steve Neuwirth of the White House counsel's office.
According to a White House spokesman, Neuwirth then "made inquiries at the Justice Department and determined that this was not the type of issue that we wanted to be involved in." The anti-trust division was then investigating West concerning allegations of monopolistic practices.
Justice then dropped the anti-trust inquiry and its plan to start an on-line service. In 1996, West publishing merged with the Thomson Corp. in a $3.4 billion deal that had to be approved by a federal court. Both consumer advocates and West's smaller competitors insist that Justice should have opposed the merger under the anti-trust law because it creates "an enormous concentration" in the legal publishing field. According to a spokesman for the Justice Department, "politics played no role in the decision to approve the merger."
That last statement may be true, but this one does not pass the smell test. Unfortunately, we have been so inundated with smoke about the Lincoln Bedroom, Whitewater and rides on Air Force One that most of us probably wouldn't know a real stink if one came our way. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, which is crazed on the subject of Clinton anyway, took leave of its senses entirely this month and was off on some toot about old homicides and drug dealing in Arkansas.
Meanwhile, the open sewer of legal bribery that constitutes the way campaigns are financed is now being investigated by people who are themselves in it up to their eyeballs. And the most maddening part of the impending Hypocrisy Fest is that the investigators have declared in advance that they will do nothing about fixing the system. Government policies are for sale, the country's resources are for sale, our country is for sale, and no one in Washington wants even to talk about how to fix it.
Time to throw the expletive-deleteds out.
COPYRIGHT 1997 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.