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Pardons, Uncloaked

What better time to pass legislation to further limit the efforts of those who would influence a president's exercise of his pardon power? It could help lessen public indignation over the recent pardon scandals and counter the now widespread perception that the constitutional powers of the executive branch can be bought.

A number of Republicans and Democrats in Congress have joined Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania in cosponsoring a bill that would require those who lobby the White House on pardon-related issues to actually register as lobbyists. One notable cosponsor: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) of New York. She was drawn into the recent pardon scandals when news broke that her brother, Hugh Rodham, was paid $400,000 to lobby for a presidential pardon (he later returned the money).

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Senator Specter's bill also would require public disclosure of any contributions or pledges in excess of $5,000 to a presidential library during a president's term in office. Denise Rich's $450,000 contribution to former President Clinton's library fund was only revealed during congressional hearings on the pardon issue. Donors to the libraries of former Presidents Bush and Reagan have not been made public.

Mr. Specter's worthy objective is "to shed light on those who seek influence." Sadly, those who would seek to influence a president will likely find the means to do so - unless a politician's moral courage is sufficient to stop the attempt.

But, like campaign-finance reform legislation, this bill moves in the right direction. And it stops short of threatening a president's vital constitutional authority to pardon those deemed worthy. Specter's bill should be passed and signed into law.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor