What, me break the law?

Rep. Bill McCollum denied breaking any campaign finance laws last weekend at a constituent meeting where supporters of the Republican incumbent appeared to be a mostly silent majority.

The traditional game of polite town-hall softball turned into spirited fast pitch in College Park, with the audience of about 35 people at Edgewater High School more interested in sex, drugs and gun control than in McCollum's stand for a balanced budget.

And while a few politely applauded at the end of his presentation, most appeared to oppose his conservative views. Questioners from the floor challenged McCollum on everything from the progress of Kenneth Starr's investigation of Monica Lewinsky, to the use of medical marijuana, to the needs for more restrictive gun control and a higher minimum wage.

Democrat Al Krulick, who lost a bid to unseat McCollum in 1996 and is preparing to run again, pressed McCollum to address allegations that he had skirted campaign finance laws. Krulick, who had encouraged his supporters to attend the event, cited published reports that McCollum was under investigation for raising money in 1996 for a nonprofit group called the Coalition for Our Children's Future, a GOP shell created to skirt federal fund-raising laws. Krulick also challenged McCollum's dependence on campaign contributions from sources such as banking. McCollum, Krulick said, is guilty of the type of "apparent conflict of interest that is poisoning our political system."

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While conceding that he raised money for the non-profit organization -- although he couldn't recall the group's name -- McCollum insisted that he didn't do anything wrong. He said he was "not aware of breaking any campaign finance laws." And the congressman, who has a habit of referring to himself in the third person, said he is not under the control of special-interest dollars.

"Bill McCollum has never been influenced by contributions given to me by anyone," he said.

Krulick and McCollum also battled over the use of medical marijuana and the future of the war on drugs.

Krulick, who was given plenty of room to speak from the floor by the incumbent, supports medicinal use of marijuana as well as an effort to put the issue to a statewide vote by 2000. He also said that, like Prohibition, efforts to stanch the flow of drugs into the country will never work. "The war on drugs is, has been and will continue to be a failure," he said, adding that such substances as pot and cocaine should be legalized, tightly controlled and taxed.

McCollum, who once favored the medical use of marijuana, now sees it as "the back-door way" to legalization of the drug.

Dave Anderson, a volunteer with the Cannabis Action Network, rose to say that public polls show support for medicinal use, which he described as the "will of the people."

Replied McCollum, "I don't think it is the will of the educated majority."

Admitting that results thus far have been mixed, McCollum said he's been studying ways to stop the flow of drugs into the country. In his constituent newsletter he claims, "We could have a virtually drug-free America in three or four years."

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"I know now how to do it," he told his audience on Saturday.

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His plan is to escalate, or "revitalize," the war by making it the military's top national security issue. If the United States allocates the "proper resources" and works more closely with countries in which drugs are produced, McCollum said that drug consumption would be reduced by 90 percent in five years.

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