How can Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton pre tend that her campaign's $721,895 under statement of the costs of the key fund-rais ing event of her 2000 Senate race was just a bookkeeping error for which the candidate bears no responsibility? Will her campaign's $35,000 civil fine be all the punishment for this massive flouting of the campaign-finance law?
Remember what happened. Hillary's GOP opponent, Rep. Rick Lazio, had challenged the first lady to put her money where her mouth was and refuse to accept soft money (large, essentially unregulated donations) to fund her Senate race. If she abstained, he said, he would also.
Hillary had always condemned soft money, and the Clinton administration had pressed hard for its elimination. But most of her money in the 2000 race was soft the result of large checks written by people who had who had slept in the Lincoln Bedroom or otherwise been feted at the White House, Camp David, Air Force One, etc.
Hillary had defended her receipt of soft money by noting that Lazio was doing the same. But with her opponent offering a joint ban, she must have known she'd soon have to agree.
That's when she and Bill arranged for a huge Hollywood fund-raiser to rake in hard money.
This affair was arranged and orchestrated by Peter Paul (who is now suing Hillary and Bill Clinton). It succeeded in raising millions in hard money but the costs of staging it proved much higher than expected.
Had Hillary reported accurately the cost of the event, she would have had almost $1 million less in hard money than she got by understating it. This extra hard money was pivotal to her ability to finance her 2000 Senate campaign.
With the Hollywood money in hand, and after much hemming and hawing, Hillary agreed to the soft money ban in September of 2000, two months before Election Day.
I've worked with Hillary: She's a master of detail. A decision to underreport the costs of an event like the Hollywood extravaganza by almost three-quarters of a million dollars could not possibly have been made without her knowledge and approval probably, at her direction.
Paul says that Hillary did, indeed, know about the underreporting she asked him to hold down his fee so could net more funds from the event.
Will the Teflon Senator skate by yet another scandal? Count them up: The cattle-trading windfall, the Travel Office firings, the retainer from the Madison Bank, the disappearance of the Rose Law Firm billing records, falsely telling the grand jury that she did not work on the Castle Grande real-estate deal, the FBI file scandal, the pardons her brothers were paid to secure and now the Hollywood fund-raiser.
When the fine was announced (as arranged between regulators and her campaign), Hillary and Bill were conveniently out of the country, together in the Dominican Republic. Call it damage control, Clinton style: Arrange not to be around when awkward questions would be asked.
Yes, this scandal has been aired before but the story lost its legs after a jury acquitted Hillary's finance aide, David Rosen, on charges that he deliberately understated the amount spent on the event. But the Federal Election Commission's finding that the amount was underestimated and that the Clinton campaign should be fined implies a level of collective responsibility for the false report which elevates it above the category of a simple mistake. And Sen. Clinton needs to be pressed on this point.
Or we could just wait for the next scandal.