- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2000

Republican presidential candidate John McCain, touted as an anti-establishment reformer, is heavily supported by wealthy Wall Street and Hollywood contributors who are also giving to Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley.

Unlike other Republicans in the presidential race, federal campaign records show that Mr. McCain alone has been showered with maximum $1,000 contributions from business and entertainment tycoons who traditionally support liberal candidates and the Democratic Party.

Also, while Mr. McCain has made campaign finance reform a major issue in his quest for the White House, he has accepted more than $100,000 in contributions from gambling interests since 1993.

The Arizona senator raised more than $500,000 in New York City last year and more than $250,000 in entertainment-dominated Los Angeles communities Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City and Hollywood.

About one-fifth of Mr. McCain's Wall Street backing comes from Democratic supporters. More than one-third of his Hollywood money comes from staunchly liberal Democrats, such as Lew Wasserman of Universal Studios and the wife of TV producer Norman Lear, founder of the liberal group People for the American Way, who are simultaneously backing Mr. Bradley, Mr. Gore, and the national Democratic Party.

Two $1,000 McCain donors in Los Angeles Haim and Cheryl Saban of Saban Entertainment also gave $1,000 to Mr. Gore and $100,000 in so-called campaign "soft money" to the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

At least seven top executives with Wall Street investment firm Goldman Sachs & Co. gave $1,000 each to Mr. Gore or Mr. Bradley or both, plus $1,000 to Mr. McCain, but no other Republican. David A. Dechman, Goldman Sach's managing director in New York and one of the Democratic contributors to Mr. McCain, did not respond to inquiries.

Democratic support for Mr. McCain made news yesterday, when two Democrats helped Mr. McCain get on the Republican primary ballot in New York.

In about one-quarter of New York's 31 congressional districts, the Bush campaign had challenged petitions to put Mr. McCain on the ballot for the March 7 primary, saying the petitions lacked enough signatures.

Both Republicans on the state Board of Elections voted to uphold the challenges, but the board's two Democrats abstained, depriving the Bush camp of the third vote needed to invalidate the McCain petitions. Mr. Bush's lawyers immediately filed a lawsuit in state court, appealing the decision.

Mr. McCain's campaign spokesman, Howard Opinsky, says the Democratic support shows Mr. McCain's "broad appeal among conservative Democrats and independents" as well as Republicans and his ability to beat either Mr. Gore or Mr. Bradley in a national election face-off.

"That's why the leadership of the White House and Democratic Party fears our candidacy the worst," Mr. Opinsky said. "Like Ronald Reagan used to say, people contribute to our campaign because they believe in John McCain's message, but Senator McCain doesn't necessarily support everything that his contributors do."

But political veterans, particularly on the conservative Republican side, say the corporate and media establishment is throwing money at Mr. McCain's campaign to "hedge" its bets on the election because they perceive him as the GOP candidate most likely to support their policies if elected.

"I think the heavily committed but pragmatic Democrats like this understand that Gore is a weak candidate," said conservative strategist Paul M. Weyrich, who is backing Republican candidate Steve Forbes. "They worry that even George W. Bush is able to beat Gore consistently in the polls, so I think this is their hedge."

Mr. Weyrich said Democratic donors "think that if we can't get Gore, McCain would be a good back-up candidate."

Mr. Opinsky says Mr. McCain's 17-year congressional record disproves claims that he is not sufficiently conservative.

But critics such as Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity say Mr. McCain's political fund raising over the years has been clearly tied to his congressional actions and brings into question his claimed independence from special interests.

Mr. Lewis points to Mr. McCain's cozy relationship with the Las Vegas gambling industry. In the center's recently published book, "The Buying of the President 2000," he notes that Mr. McCain has fought in the Senate to win tax breaks and other federal government concessions for gambling interests in his home state's neighbor, Nevada.

"McCain has collected more than $100,000 in contributions from gambling interests since 1993, and he's returned the financial favors in ways big and small," Mr. Lewis wrote.

In a major 1998 tax-reform bill, Mr. McCain helped gambling establishments win a tax exemption for free meals they give to workers, projected to cost the Treasury $316 million through 2007, Mr. Lewis said. "Even during his battle to pass tobacco legislation, McCain found a way to help the gambling industry: At the urging of the American Gaming Association, he agreed to exempt gambling establishments from his bill's ban on indoor smoking."

At least 38 Las Vegas gambling tycoons and their wives have donated maximum contributions to Mr. McCain's presidential bid, including billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, controlling owner of the MGM Grand and four other casinos in Reno, Nev., according to Federal Election Commission reports.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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