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When politics become a dead issue

June 10, 1997

Time flies, but little changes. About 15 years ago I was covering the West Virginia State Legislature, when one of the Damron brothers - I disremember which - took the floor of the House of Delegates, microphone in hand and loaded for bear.

The bill under discussion was one to curtail election fraud. Even as late as the 1980s, voter shenanigans were not unheard of in the Mountain State - even if they didn't quite touch the legendary proportions of decades past when the winning candidate was determined by who could offer a poll-goer the largest swallow of whiskey.

Delegate Damron believed he had been cheated out of a victory for some state office, I believe it was attorney general, the year before and this was one of those rare occasions a West Virginia lawmaker was hungering for reform.

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At his finger-wagging best, Damron blueprinted for the House chamber precisely how the frauds were carried out. Red-faced, he railed and spouted and finally concluded with an anectdote explaining that West Virginia politics were so corrupt that in the last election one of his own blood relatives had voted against him.

A younger and somewhat puzzled delegate took the floor after Damron had quelled his spasm and gently pointed out that this was America, and if one of Damron's blood relatives felt compelled to vote against him it was his Constitutional right.

I know that, Damron snapped back. And that doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that he's been dead since 1973.

Flash forward to an article in last week's New York Times:

"At least $200,000 in contributions to President Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign came from donors that federal investigators now suspect were fictitious, including checks from several phony corporations and a $3,000 draft funneled through the account of a dead woman."

It's enough to make a politically attuned person want to die, his influence will be so much greater in the afterlife.

Talk about ghosts in the (political) machine. You never know whether the Democrats are going to hold a fund-raiser or a seance. The Times writes on:

"One check for $3,000 bore the name of Michele Lima, a New York City woman who died in 1986, according to investigators. The other, for $4,000, is signed with the name Hong Jen Chiao. Election records list Chiao's address as the Democratic National Committee's office here. Yet investigators, who have failed to find Chiao, now suspect he does not exist.

"Written on the same day and in a handwriting that appears identical, each check was made out to 'Victor '96,' an erroneous reference to 'Victory '96,' an organization committed to the re-election of Clinton and Vice President Al Gore."

Time out. Look, if the Asians want to dump tons of money into the American political arena, fine. Helps the trade balance. But try not to be so obvious about it. At the very least, get the English right, OK? Don't go making the check out to "Victor '96.'"

And please, stop taking money from dead people. I used to take some small comfort in thinking, at the very least, that after I'm gone the politicians will no longer be able to pick my pocket.

Once again I have underestimated the political process. And you know what comes next; if dead people keep being shaken down for campaign money, pretty soon they are going to want their very own political action committee. DeadPAC - parent organization of the pro-death movement.

They'll have their own agenda: Bigger plots, anti chain-rattling ordinances and their very own team of lobbyists in Washington to argue before congressional committees that death does not lead to lung cancer.

And, as Delegate Damron would attest, they'll no-doubt want a Constitutional amendment allowing them to vote - if they haven't already.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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