Staff and wire reports
WASHINGTON Ä In the morning, more than 350 Republican House candidates solemnly signed a pledge to take back Congress from special interests. In the evening, they headed for a $5,000-a-table dinner to raise half a million dollars from Washington's money elite.
In the daytime ceremony on the Capitol steps, GOP incumbents, challengers and open-seat candidates filed past a table draped in red, white and blue to sign a "Contract with America" Ä a 10-point platform they pledged to act on early next year if voters elect a Republican House majority for the first time since 1954.
"Clinton is in such trouble with the American people that our job is to go out and offer a clear, positive alternative," said Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. "To say, look, we're different."
But Tuesday night's gala at a downtown Washington hotel underscored a reality of modern politics: Democrats and Republicans alike depend on some of the same Washington lobbies for campaign money.
"We're not telling you we're Martians," Gingrich said. "I believe we should have an obligation to raise money. It's perfectly legitimate."
A senior Republican official involved in planning the event said organizers were aware the fund-raiser would open them to charges of hypocrisy, and an internal debate about postponing it raged until several days ago.
At the contract signing ceremony, Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, said Republicans are "united in the belief that the people's House must be wrested from the grip of special interest groups and handed back to the people."
Public interest groups expressed skepticism, and Democrats called the platform a "contract for cash."
"They only think they can do this because of the peculiar definition of special interest groups that the Republicans are using," said Jim Barry, a University of Arizona adjunct political science professor who teaches a class on special interest groups.
"When they say special interest groups they are referring to women, children, farmers, senior citizens and Union members. They don't consider pharmaceutical companies, businesses and the American Medical Association as special interest groups," he said. "What they are talking about is ignoring the less affluent members of society."
"Most of the interest groups don't really represent the people, yet they are the ones who are heard because they have a powerful voice and lots of money behind them," said Tallee Billiard, the president of UA College Republicans.
"Although I would support limiting funding (from special interest groups), I don't think eliminating them would be necessarily good," said William Kuhn, a UA political science and philosophy junior.
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