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What 'Soft Money' Can Buy

Packwood's diaries expose the price of legislative favors

WHAT lies behind us is only the first phase of the Bob Packwood scandal, mainly involving personal misconduct with women. Ahead of us, as the diaries and massive documentation are studied, lies a deeper and more pervasive second phase involving legislative misconduct at the public expense.

Whether it was a ''felony,'' as Senator Packwood speculated in his diary, for Sen. Phil Gramm ( as head of a Republican Party fund-raising arm) to siphon $100,000 in so-called ''soft money'' into Packwood's 1992 campaign is being explored by the Senate Ethics Committee. But more important is where that kind of money comes from and what it purchases from legislators hungry for campaign funds.

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The quid pro quo phenomenon is not new. The late Philip Stern described it in his book, ''The Best Congress Money Can Buy.'' Public interest organizations like Common Cause have inveighed against it for years. But seldom are we afforded the kind of first-person evidence Packwood presents in his politically suicidal diaries.

Take the case of superlobbyist Ronald Crawford, unearthed by the New York Times. Mr. Crawford has been a good friend and ardent money-raiser for Packwood. When Crawford needed a special tax loophole for the Shell Oil Company, Packwood records that he said, ''Ron, I still hate the oil companies, but I'll do you a favor.'' When Crawford needed a favor for the cable television industry, Packwood, chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, came through with support for deregulation. Packwood boasted in his diary that much of Crawford's income ''is dependent on his relationship with me.''

Crawford brought in the big bucks, but Packwood also didn't sneeze at small bucks. He wrote of a $3,000 contribution from a timber and paper company, ''I'm glad to have anything I can get.''

IT is hard to know what possessed Packwood to document, day by day, the correlation between money received and legislative favors extended. That is something the average powerful chairman of a powerful committee prefers to gloss over. But Packwood has broken that code of silence about the hard uses of soft money. And, as he leaves in dishonor, it may be that dramatizing the larger issue of influence-peddling will be the greatest service he has performed.

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