The congressional investigations of campaign fund-raising have to be fair and directed by leaders of unquestioned integrity if they are to shed light on the truth, earn the public's respect and lead to meaningful reform. While the Senate is headed down the right path, the House has chosen the wrong direction and could undermine the entire effort.
The Senate's investigation is led by Fred Thompson, the respected Tennessee senator and former federal prosecutor who was chief Republican counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee. Thompson's committee will examine fund-raising by Democrats and Republicans, and by the president and members of Congress. At the insistence of Democrats and some moderate Republicans, the committee will investigate both "illegal and improper activities." All of this lays the groundwork for a credible, broad and bipartisan investigation.
In contrast, Rep. Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who leads the House committee, should be the target of an investigation instead of leading one. He has been accused by an American lobbyist for Pakistan of demanding more campaign money, then complaining to Pakistan's ambassador about the lobbyist's failure to deliver. Burton also leaned on AT&T for an invitation to play in a celebrity golf tournament, and AT&T was kind enough to host a fund-raiser to pay for his expenses. Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reports that as Burton promoted the Helms-Burton Act that restricts trade with Cuba, he squeezed more campaign money out of Cuban-Americans in Miami than he did out of fellow Hoosiers back in Indiana.
Obviously, Burton cannot wear the white hat of an unbiased investigator. Equally disturbing is the House committee's tunnel vision. Its scope extends only to White House and Democratic fund-raising. That hopelessly taints the committee's motives and findings before the real work even starts. If Burton turns up more dirt on the Clinton White House, Democrats will question his motives and claim they did nothing worse than he did. If Thompson makes a similar discovery, his credibility will be much more difficult to attack.
Ideally, there should be one congressional investigation as the Justice Department continues its criminal probe. That is too much to hope for now. But House leaders should remove Burton and coordinate their investigation with the Senate's. The allegations of fund-raising abuses by the White House are extremely serious. And, as Burton can attest, allegations against members of Congress are mounting, too. A tainted investigation will further cloud the truth and delay campaign finance reform.