Washington Prowler

Traficant Outlawed

Dick Gephardt gets tough. Also: Common Cause's pressure tactics.

By 4.17.02

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COMMON COME-ON
Funny how things work in Washington. Common Cause, one of the greatest opponents of special interest fundraising and influence in the nation's capital, is putting pressure on its state organizations to raise more dollars to support its fight against fundraising and influence peddling. And if the state organizations don't pay up? "They shut us down," says a former Common Cause volunteer in Virginia, where that state's CC office was shuttered last year after it couldn't meet the national organization's minimum fundraising goals. "I got involved, my friends got involved in Common Cause because we believed that money was destroying our democracy. My Dad's a Republican. He told me I was being naive. And he was right. Common Cause is no better than the Republicans and Democrats they claim are the problems. "

According to insiders in Common Cause's national office, several state operations are having trouble raising money, including Texas and Nevada. State offices are expected to raise money to support many of their operations. The national office, in turn, provides additional funds to round out the state program budget. "But most of us can't do what we're expected to do without support from Washington," says the former Common Cause volunteer.

Perhaps most interesting, Common Cause doesn't seem to discriminate over who actually helps foot the bill for their state offices, which are encouraged to seek money from area nonprofit foundations, wealthy individuals, even small businesses and area companies. "Part of what we promise [donors] is that they will be given a voice in Washington and in our state capitals," says a Common Cause staffer in California. "In a lot of ways we're lobbying for money the same way the special interests lobby."

TRAFICANT STOPPED
House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt is hoping to avoid ugliness if and when Ohio Democrat Rep. James Traficant shows up in Washington again. According to a Traficant staffer, one of the few left in his Washington office, Gephardt's leadership office has barred their boss from the Capitol and threatened to have him arrested and forcibly removed should he attempt to take the floor of the House. Technically, unless the House Ethics committee recommends expulsion and a vote is held, Traficant can't be barred. Gephardt has been asking Democrats to organize on immediate expulsion of Traficant, in a way that would speed or bypass the ethics committee procedure. "Surprisingly, Gephardt hasn't had many takers," says one House member who was approached by the leader. "If I had to put money down, my guess is he'll get someone like Maxine Waters to do the deed."

(As always Democrats completely misjudged the eagerness of Republicans to help them out -- yesterday Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner [R-Wisc.], the wealthiest man in Congress, became the first to call for Traficant's ouster.)

After Traficant's conviction on bribery and racketeering charges last Thursday, Gephardt moved quickly to demand that Traficant resign from the House. When reporters in Cleveland passed along Gephardt's suggestion, Traficant went ballistic. "Gephardt has no balls. He can go f--- himself," Traficant sputtered.

On Friday, Traficant hadn't changed his mind. In a written statement he said, "I meant it when I told him to go f--- himself. I didn't ask for him to resign as a result of him being an impotent Minority Leader and for having screwed up the party."

"I'm sure Mr. Traficant enjoys doing this kind of thing, but it's Mr. Gephardt who is getting the last laugh," says a staffer in Gephardt's leadership office.

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