Drawing the Line

The positive side of troubles like the administration's fund-raising missteps is the effort to make a repeat performance less likely. The president touched on this as Friday's news conference questions focused largely on fund-raising. But it's reported that the White House already had guidelines to avoid transgressing laws against political solicitations on federal property. Looking to practices of past administrations, the Clinton team designated those rooms considered the first family's personal residence as OK for political activity. The West Wing was limited to official use.

Clinton political guru Dick Morris and some party functionaries gathered for a strategy session on the wrong piece of real estate, according to The New York Times. Then-chief of staff Leon Panetta hustled them away.

Members of Congress, too, have their ways of establishing politically correct terrain for fund-raising calls. They rent office space off Capitol Hill.

But the strains of attempting to draw a line between politics and government can get intense, as fund-raising demands and opportunities rise in the heat of a race. The Clinton team seems to have lost sight of the line on occasion, though the president stoutly defended the vice president's soliciting money and the first lady's top aide's receiving $50,000 (to pass along) on the premises.

Recently Commerce Secretary William Daley instituted rules to ensure US trade missions have no political strings. Big campaign donors will occupy no privileged seats, as they allegedly did under former secretary Ron Brown. May Mr. Daley prove capable of making his rules airtight.

Any strong rules must be backed by strong commitment to both their literal meaning and their spirit. On Friday Mr. Clinton pledged a higher standard than "it's legal." We live in hope.

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