Friday, October 23, 1998

Democrats’ hypocrisy
on campaign spending

BEN Cayetano is backing away from his accusations that Linda Lingle violated the campaign spending law by exceeding the spending limit during the primary election. The governor said he wouldn't continue to make an issue of the matter. That's understandable, because the Democrats' hypocrisy in pressing the issue was blatant.

Four years ago the Cayetano campaign also exceeded the spending limit to qualify for public funding. But instead of returning the $312,000 it had received to the state, it kept the money and claimed that it was for fund-raising expenses. The Campaign Spending Commission eventually bought that argument and dismissed a Republican complaint -- 21/2 years later.

Lingle didn't get $312,000 in state funding, because the commission decided to split the candidate money differently this time -- to her disadvantage. She got only $136,229. (Cayetano decided not to apply for public funds so he could ignore the spending limit. He raised so much money that he didn't need public funding.) When the Lingle campaign discovered that she had exceeded the $1.36 million spending limit for the primary, she didn't try to find an excuse to keep the money, as Cayetano did. She returned it to the state.

Despite the fact that she returned the money, the Democrats accused her of deliberately violating the law. The Campaign Spending Commission, on a 3-2 vote, decided to refer the Democratic complaint to the city prosecutor.

That didn't happen when it was a Democrat who was accused of violating the spending limit. He got to keep the money. Complaint dismissed!

In the current campaign, Cayetano has collected twice as much money as Lingle but the Democrats are after her for supposedly violating the campaign spending law. There's a word for this: shibai.


Tapping cell phones

CELLULAR telephones not only have saturated American society but also have become important tools of drug dealers, terrorists, kidnappers and other criminals. Law enforcement officials who have been able to tap regular phones to combat crime too often have struck a dial tone with cell phones. Federal regulators finally have agreed to provide authorities the capability needed in the digital world.

The Federal Communications Commission has given initial approval of technical standards that companies will be required to meet to accommodate court-ordered wiretaps under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. The most important new standard would require companies to include location-tracking technology in cellular phones. Companies affected include long-distance companies such as AT&T, regional Baby Bells and manufacturers.

The Justice Department has estimated the cost of such an upgrade at $2 billion for the companies to meet a June 2000 deadline for compliance. Some civil liberties groups oppose the location-finder, contending that it would give too much power to law-enforcement agencies and could infringe on individual rights.

Such concerns assume that law-enforcement agencies will abuse new levels of authority. In fact, the authority already exists. Wiretaps must be approved by court orders that allow police to listen in on cell phone conversations and, in some cases, get information about the caller's location. The FCC proposal would require all companies to assure the technical capability to facilitate such actions. Under the proposal, police would need to show that the cell phone caller's location is relevant to an investigation.

The key to such authority to tap phones, whether standard or cellular, is judicial oversight. As long as such oversight exists, police should not be hampered in combating crime by being deprived of the means to overcome technical obstacles.


Puerto Rico’s status

IT'S an ill wind that blows no good, and supporters of statehood for Puerto Rico regard the devastation caused by Hurricane Georges as bolstering their cause. The reason: The federal aid for hurricane victims demonstrated the benefits of being part of the United States. Gov. Pedro Rossello has been accused of exploiting the aid program to strengthen the statehood cause.

The dollar value of the federal government's relief effort has been estimated at $1.5 billion, and the operation isn't finished yet. The hurricane, which struck Sept. 21, is considered the worst to hit Puerto Rico in 70 years.

Besides statehood, the other options in the referendum are continued commonwealth status or independence. Washington is not legally bound by the results of the vote, but President Clinton has said Congress should honor them.

The last time the issue was considered, in 1993, supporters of commonwealth status narrowly defeated statehood. Only a tiny minority favors independence.

Under the commonwealth, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but cannot vote for president or members of Congress. Commonwealth supporters fear statehood would dilute their Hispanic culture and make English the dominant language.

It's certainly true that Puerto Rico's U.S. connection paid off handsomely in dealing with the hurricane's devastation. In the neighboring Dominican Republic and Haiti, which were also hit hard by Hurricane Georges but are not U.S. territories, the governments lack the resources to cope with hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by the storm.

Puerto Rico, which is still a commonwealth, obviously didn't need statehood to be a recipient of federal largess. But there is nothing like having your own votes to trade in Congress to ensure your share of the federal financial pie.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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