The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday began its examination of questionable campaign finance practices, issuing 52 subpoenas for documents held by a group of American and Asian contributors and fund-raisers as well as federal agencies with whom they had contact.
Thursday’s votes approving the orders followed bitter partisan bickering, with several committee members saying they could not recall such wrangling over the relatively straightforward issue of subpoenas. Eight of the subpoenas were approved over the objections of the committee’s seven Democrats.
Republicans who control the committee said Thursday’s votes were needed to begin collecting documents for a complex investigation that could take many months. They accused the Democrats of engaging in delay and distraction.
“At every step of the way, I’ve been met by resistance, resistance on big things, resistance on little things,” said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., who heads the committee. “The only consistent thing they’ve done is resistance.”
The Democrats countered that the Republicans had set up a one-sided inquiry that would overlook Republican campaign excesses and focus exclusively on problems in Democratic fund-raising efforts.
“This is being billed as a bipartisan look at election campaign finance,” said Sen. John Glenn of Ohio, the committee’s ranking Democrat. “It’s very hard to see how in any way this is bipartisan when there is a list for 50 Democratic subpoenas and two Republican subpoenas.”
The partisan tone of the debate suggested that the investigation could suffer from political divisiveness that would ultimately weaken its integrity, a problem Thompson understood. “Charges of partisanship themselves can be a partisan tool,” he said. But he also insisted that the committee “will have no quota system” in terms of investigating the Republicans on an equal footing with the Democrats.
The political divide between the committee’s Democrats and the Republicans is deep. After weeks of talks, Thompson and Glenn are still unable to agree on the investigation’s three most fundamental issues: its budget, scope and length.
The subpoena list, which Senate aides said was compiled largely from news accounts, includes Charles Yah in Trie, Mark Grobmyer, Mark Middleton, C. Joseph Giroir Jr., James Wood and Pauline Kanchanalak. Fourteen of the subpoenas were for companies that are controlled by the Riadys, the wealthy Indonesian family with old ties to President Clinton.
But the list was also notable for what it did not include.
No subpoenas were issued for papers held by the White House, the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee or the Clinton or Dole campaigns. Requests for information from them are expected to be made in the coming weeks, Republican aides said.
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