WASHINGTON — Five months after striking a handshake bargain with President Clinton to clean up the campaign finance system and pursue other political reforms, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) on Thursday called for the creation of a commission that would study the issue for another seven months.
Some of his own GOP troops said that the proposal betrays a lack of enthusiasm for changing the campaign system that helped put Republicans in control of Congress.
In his first extended statement on the subject since taking control of the House, Gingrich offered a diagnosis directly at odds with the conventional political belief that too much money is raised and spent on campaigns.
"One of the great myths of modern politics is that campaigns are too expensive," Gingrich said at a House hearing on campaign finance reform. "The political process, in fact, is underfunded. It is not overfunded."
Gingrich, whose personal and political finances have been under scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee, proposed the commission at a time when House GOP leaders are under heavy pressure from freshman Republicans to stop dragging their feet on political reforms.
Proponents of overhauling campaign finance decried the proposed commission as a delaying tactic to stall reform legislation.
"The old boys and old Establishment [have] come up with the best proposal they could to . . . stall for time," said freshman Rep. Linda Smith (R-Wash.).
Gingrich's proposal has its roots in a joint appearance with Clinton in New Hampshire in June. During an informal debate, the two men agreed to establish a bipartisan commission to find a way to reform campaign financing and lobbying.
Clinton then proposed giving a panel of Republicans and Democrats a deadline of Feb. 1, 1996, to draw up detailed legislation. Gingrich never acted on the suggestion.
As the months passed, first-year Republicans eager for action on political reform issues grew restless. Last week, they wrung a commitment from GOP leaders to consider lobbying and gift reform legislation by Nov. 16. A House subcommittee Thursday approved a bill to tighten restrictions on lobbying.
Many freshmen also voiced concern that Gingrich's proposed commission would further delay action on campaign finance legislation.
Gingrich called for a panel of eight Republicans and eight Democrats to be chosen by congressional leaders and Clinton.