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Jewish World Review Aug. 3, 1999 /21 Av, 5759

David Corn

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It’s Money That Matters -- WHAT’S THE ONE FIGURE you need to know to understand this presidential election? The answer is $100 million.

That’s how much money George W. Bush, the one-and-a-quarter-term governor of Texas, may raise. He’s already over a third of the way to becoming the first nine-figure presidential candidate. It’s driving his Republican competitors nuts and, no doubt, freaking out Vice President Al Gore, who will have to spend many of his millions beating back ex-Senator Bill Bradley, while the Bush cash register will keep ringing. Republican Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor, has been wailing about Bush’s money. At the start of this presidential season, Alexander was a contender—not a favorite, but a candidate who had a shot. GOP yuppie, country-club suburbanites fancied him the last time round. And it was only a few months ago that Alexander was boasting to political reporters of his fundraising prowess. He noted that in the 1996 presidential race the most generous source of individual campaign contributions was not New York, L.A. or Washington, but Tennessee. That’s because Alexander squeezed every nickel he could out of his neighbors, pals and cronies. Alexander told us political scribblers that he would easily amass $20 million.

That’s not happening. At last count, Alexander had $90,000 in his campaign coffers. Bush had $30 million. So Alexander is no longer talking up his cash-collecting skills. Instead, he’s griping about the influence of money in politics. “They want to hold an auction on the White House lawn and sell the presidency to the highest bidder,” he moaned last week. (Actually, the auction is taking place at Republican National Committee headquarters, not 1600 Pennsylvania.) “These moneyed interests,” Alexander continued, “contend the so-called money primary matters more than the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary.” In private, Alexander is probably upset not so much about the auction as about the fact that he doesn’t have the bucks to be competitive on eBay, let alone within the GOP big-bucks primary contest.

Steve Forbes, the never-did-anything-but-inherited-a-fortune publisher, was also playing the crying game. After Bush declared that he’d ignore federal spending limits in the primaries and forego federal matching funds, Forbes’ campaign whacked W. for sheer opportunism. Excuse me, but Forbes practically invented sheer opportunism. He dropped his 1996 anti-anti-choice position and became a born-again abortion foe for this campaign. Moreover, he’s only in the race because his daddy’s fortune allows him the opportunity of pretending he’s important.

Hypocrisy is not reserved for the jealous. The Bush campaign is not accepting donations from tobacco political action committees. That comes across as a principled position. But—you knew there was a “but”—Bush pocketed $50,000 from tobacco executives and their spouses in the last three months, according to the Dallas Morning News. Here’s the explanation, courtesy of Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes: “Individuals have the right to be involved in the political process, and Governor Bush is accepting contributions from individuals.” That’s some standard Bush has set. He won’t take money from the companies of drug dealers, but he’ll pocket checks from the pushers. He can’t kick that GOP habit of mainlining tobacco money.

The Missing Clyde

Bill Bradley is rolling out the long guns. On July 27, the onetime basketball star was scheduled to hold a fundraiser in Chicago starring his former Knicks teammates Phil Jackson, Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed, Cazzie Russell and Earl Monroe. Also signed for the event were former Celtic John Havlicek and ex-76er Billy Cunningham. For an extra $500, a donor could play a game of B-I-L (a shortened version of H-O-R-S-E) with one of these basketball greats. This was an event tailored for a 40ish lawyer who would gladly part with two hours or so of billing to go mano-a-mano with the Pearl or Hondo.

But the lineup makes you ask an obvious question: where’s Clyde? Walt Frazier was the only starter from the championship Knicks lineup Bradley didn’t corral. Could he be a Gore man? In any event, this fundraiser hinted at what might be Bradley’s secret weapon: Michael Jordan. The world’s most famous athlete has already contributed money to Bradley’s campaign. (Jackson, who coached Jordan on the Chicago Bulls, has been a lead money-chaser for Bradley.) But imagine the boost Bradley would receive if he gets Jordan into a television ad or onto the campaign trail. It’s too early for Bradley to play the J-card. He ought to wait until it’s closer to voting time to be seen with Jordan. Gore better get his act together by then.

JWR contributor David Corn, Washington Editor of The Nation, writes the "Loyal Opposition" column for The New York Press.

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