The Consortium

The Real Problem with Washington

Bill Clinton's unseemly decision to turn the White House into the nation's priciest bed and breakfast both illuminates and obscures the real trouble with Washington. What Clinton did was use the White House to reward big-dollar campaign contributors. However he tries to spin those facts, the White House was up for sale.

But the bottom line in Washington is that almost everything and nearly everyone has a price tag. While Clinton deserves the criticism he's getting, it's galling that he's getting it from institutions and individuals whose hands are thoroughly dirty, too.

The Congress, for instance, is adopting the ethically dubious position that only presidential fundraising is fair game, not congressional money-grubbing (which has included letting big contributors literally write their own legislation and distributing special-interest campaign contribution checks on the House floor).

The news media is no more innocent. Its TV stars posture on television about the evils of big money -- and then rush off to corporate meetings to collect $30,000 speaking fees. Time magazine's Margaret Carlson, who doubles as a TV pundit, correctly calls the hefty earnings from some light after-dinner speaking fare "the gravy train."

Many of the opinion journals, which are now so righteously indignant, are not shy about reaching into the deep pockets of their patrons, either. The American Spectator crowd collects millions in tax-deductible dollars from well-heeled foundations with political/financial agendas. According to former National Interest editor Michael Lind, conservatives writers have developed a "reflexive self-censorship," avoiding topics that might offend the foundations. [See The Consortium, Nov. 25, 1996]

Perhaps the leader in this hypocrisy parade is Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, which beats the drum daily about the dangers of mysterious Asian money. But Moon's South Korean-based operation dumps about $100 million a year into propaganda outlets in Washington and has never publicly accounted for that money (despite a 1978 congressional investigation that linked Moon to an illegal influence-buying scheme by the South Korean CIA).

But selective -- and short -- memories seem a prerequisite for Washington power-brokers. Just last year, GOP consultant Edward Rollins described a $10 million payoff from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos to a representative of Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign. In the book, Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms, Rollins refused to identify the bag man and it was not clear exactly where the $10 million ended up. But any serious investigation into illegal foreign campaign money should include sworn testimony by Rollins. [See The Consortium, Sept. 2, 1996]

The trail of that Philippine money might also lead to a Republican lawyer, Richard Hirschfeld, who has claimed to possess audiotapes and financial records that bear on the issue of the Marcos payoffs to Reagan. Those records are apparently lodged at Hirschfeld's bank in Charlottesville, Va., in case any government agency would like to go looking.

A serious investigation also would review documentary evidence about foreign intervention in the presidential election of 1980. Those records indicate that a variety of European, Middle Eastern and Asian leaders secretly threw their influence -- and their money -- behind Ronald Reagan. But that evidence was effectively swept under Washington very large -- and lumpy -- carpet by a congressional task force in 1992-93. [For more details, see The October Surprise X-Files: The Hidden Origins of the Reagan-Bush Era ]

The real trouble with Washington in this modern era is that the money corruption pervades so many institutions and implicates so many figures of power that it is hard to find true allies of reform. Yes, Clinton's political fundraising smells and needs an airing. But for the odor of dirty money to be eliminated, the whole stable must be cleaned out -- the Executive Branch, the Congress and the news media. The contamination must give way to honest alternatives in politics and the press.

Robert Parry, Editor

(c) Copyright 1997

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