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Jewish World Review March 15, 2000 / 8 Adar II, 5760

Michael Kelly

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Reform joke


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AFTER SEVEN YEARS of the Clinton administration, it takes something really rich to get a laugh here, but Al Gore's announcement last weekend that he was the candidate of campaign finance reform did the trick. Clinton-Gore fund-raiser Terence McAuliffe, implicated in an illegal 1996 fund-raising scheme involving the misuse of Teamsters' funds, laughed so hard that he dropped a large valise filled with unsequentially numbered old $20 bills he happened to be holding for a friend and badly bruised his foot. Recently convicted Gore fund-raiser Maria Hsia tried to call Gore to share a giggle with him, but Big Mama, who pretty much runs Cell Block H, wouldn't let her use the phone. Former Clinton-Gore fund-raisers Johnny Chung, Charlie Trie and John Huang, all of whom have pleaded guilty to violations of campaign finance law, declined to laugh on the advice of lawyers. Clinton himself chuckled all the way through Monday's Cleveland fund-raising dinner for 28 couples at $25,000 per.

No, seriously, folks. Oh, never mind. You can't do this seriously. Al Gore snatching up John McCain's flag of campaign finance reform? Al "Buddhist for a Day" Gore, the mendicant's mendicant? Al Gore, host or co-host of 31 White House "coffees?" Al Gore, who used the office of the vice president to make 56 telephone calls soliciting money?

Well, yes, that's the fella. And those whose breath might be taken away by the staggering hypocrisy, the brute cynicism, the wild audacity--you know, all the usual Clinton-Gore stuff--are missing the point.

The point, Gore told reporters on Saturday, was that it was precisely his previous naughtiness in the fund-raising line that makes him so particularly fit to run now as a champion of clean campaigns. "I have learned from my mistakes," said Gore. "I have a passion for campaign finance reform that is fueled in part because of the pain of those mistakes."

Listen, skeptics, those mistakes hurt Al Gore. He told the press that he had become a convert to honesty in fund-raising because of "the pain of making the mistake in '96," a pain that he now holds dear because it gave him "an opportunity for learning and growth." Now, really, how funny is this?

Funnier even than it seems at first glance. Let's put the gag in context. Let's look at Gore-related stories in the news in the days surrounding the vice president's announcement of his conversion.

On March 2, Hsia, a longtime Gore friend and fund-raiser, was convicted on five felony counts for funneling more than $100,000 in illegal donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996. (No, she's not really in jail; she's awaiting sentencing). Some $55,000 of this money was raised at a visit by Gore himself to the Hsi Lai Temple, from Buddhist nuns and monks serving as "straw donors."

On March 10, the Los Angeles Times reported details of a confidential memorandum by Charles G. LaBella, former head of the Justice Department's Campaign Financing Task Force, in which LaBella accused Janet Reno and senior department officials of using "contortions" and "intellectually dishonest" double standards to avoid a legally required independent counsel inquiry into the fund-raising practices of Clinton, Gore, Hillary Rodham Clinton and former White House aide Harold Ickes. LaBella wrote that Gore "may have provided false testimony" in telling investigators that he believed his White House calls were intended to raise only "soft money," not "hard money," the solicitation of which is illegal from a federal workplace.

After it was shown that some of the money Gore raised did go to "hard" accounts, and after it was shown that Gore attended a meeting at which it was made clear that this would be the case, Gore told investigators he had not been paying much attention in the meeting, and might have been in the bathroom at the time anyway. The Times reported that former White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta had said in a deposition that he remembered Gore "attentively listening" to the hard-money conversation.

On March 11, the New York Times reported that Gore escaped winning his very own independent counsel only because Reno twice overruled powerfully voiced arguments by LaBella, FBI Director Louis G. Freeh and other senior Justice Department officials, and refused to make the appointment. The Times also reported that the federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, Stephen A. Mansfield, launched an investigation into Gore's visit to the Hsi Lai Temple but that, days before the 1996 elections, Lee J. Radek, chief of Justice's public integrity section, personally ordered Mansfield to halt all inquiries. "I wanted to move very quickly, to gather evidence," Mansfield told the Times, "but it got yanked off my desk and as far as I know, nothing happened for many, many months. The consequence of a strategy of sitting back and doing nothing means you effectively make the matter go away."

Funny, funny stuff. Last laugh's on Election Day.


Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

03/15/00: Reform joke
03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
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02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
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01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
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11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
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