Despite Scrutiny, Soft Money Keeps Flowing

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Just after President Clinton renewed his call for a ban on unrestricted donations to political parties, the nonprofit group Common Cause released a study showing that a record $34.3 million in "soft money" direct donations had been received by the Republican and Democratic parties so far this year, while phone records have revealed that Vice President Gore in 1996 made 44 fund-raising calls from the White House, using a Clinton-Gore re-election campaign credit card.

On Monday, Clinton said he was "sick at heart" that the Democratic National Committee may have accepted overseas funds, carefully distinguishing the DNC from the Clinton-Gore campaign, which, he said, "checked every check." Today, internal memos revealed an extensive effort by Gore's staff to schedule time for him to make phone calls seeking donations from his desk near the Oval Office. While it's illegal for federal employees to solicit money in federal buildings, Gore maintains he was not subject to that restriction. Meanwhile, Common Cause points out Republican Party committees received $23.1 million in soft money this year, out-raising the Democrats by 2 to 1. Democratic Party committees took in $11.2 million. Both numbers are drastically higher than figures for previous post-election periods.

The key question here is: Does anybody care? Ongoing Congressional campaign fund-raising hearings continue to draw limited interest, though surfers can follow them gavel-to-gavel on the Web.