WASHINGTON -- Taking command of an election-year gambit, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore will soon launch a series of Democratic hearings to accuse House Republicans of abusing their investigative powers by spending at least $13 million on investigations of President Clinton and his allies.
As early as next week, House Democrats will release a preliminary study of the costs of 45 separate investigations conducted by 12 of the House's 20 committees.
Cardin, who runs the House Democratic Caucus' Committee on Organization, Study and Review, plans to launch public meetings of his committee within weeks. Democrats hope to focus attention on what they say are violations of House rules by a Republican Party intent on weakening the president.
But as the minority party in Congress, the Democrats have little hope of effecting change.
"I'm not sure the objective is to get something out of this politically, although there will be political ramifications," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, another Maryland Democrat on the caucus committee.
Cardin said he is likely to enlist Hoyer to help organize the event, propelling both members into the partisan fray that has consumed Congress for weeks. With the hearings, Democrats hope to score political points against the Republicans in an election year.
"If Americans look at the investigations going on and the ridiculously low workload we've produced, they can figure out what the priorities of the [Republican] majority are," said Rep. Joe Moakley, a Massachusetts Democrat who launched the investigative review two months ago.
Republicans will paint the venture as further proof that the Democrats are more interested in stonewalling and in protecting the president than in determining the truth about allegations of campaign finance abuses, corrupt labor union elections or White House efforts to obstruct justice.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been hammering at that theme for more than a week. Yesterday, he told the New Hampshire Legislature: "If a crime has been committed, the American people have a right to know. It's not enough to be passive."
Cardin said he plans to find people who have been ensnared in congressional investigations through no fault of their own.
"We're going to personalize this to show who is the target, to show people [that] you could be sitting in these hearing rooms," Cardin said.
The $13 million cost of Republican inquiries, Democrats insist, understates the cost to taxpayers. The figure counts only the money that was set aside by Republicans specifically for congressional investigations, Moakley said.
That figure will shoot up once Democrats take account of the money spent by federal agencies to respond to House inquiries.
For instance, Cardin said, the cost of the House investigation into the 1996 election of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, was probably dwarfed by money spent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS had to answer Republican accusations that illegal aliens might have helped Sanchez defeat Republican incumbent Robert K. Dornan.
In the end, Republicans had to concede that they could not prove Sanchez's election was invalid.
Other House investigations have examined the president's Whitewater land deal; allegations that the Democratic National Committee colluded with Ron Carey to finance his re-election as Teamsters president; the cost to the taxpayers of White House fund-raisers such as the president's coffees; and the alleged influence of foreign money on Clinton's re-election bid.
Pub Date: 5/08/98