- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

Campaign finance reform seems poised to become a major issue in the general election since Vice President Al Gore pledged to make it the centerpiece of his presidential bid and Republicans accused him of hypocrisy.

It was a dominant topic on political talk shows yesterday after Mr. Gore confessed in an interview with the New York Times he made fund-raising "mistakes" in the 1996 re-election campaign and said he has acquired a "passion" to revamp campaign finance.

"I made a mistake going to that Buddhist temple, I made a mistake in making telephone calls from my [White House] office. And I have learned from those mistakes," Mr. Gore said in the interview. He added that his commitment to campaign finance reform was "fueled, in part, because of the pain of those mistakes."

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, campaigning yesterday at a Strawberry Festival near Tampa, Fla., with his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said, "I wasn't sure if it was an April Fool's edition," when he read in the Times that Mr. Gore would make campaign finance reform an issue.

"I think the vice president is someone who will say anything to get elected. The more he talks about campaign funding reform, the better off it will be for my campaign," Mr. Bush said.

Political observers speculated that Mr. Gore is seeking to attract independents now that Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, has suspended his presidential bid. Campaign finance reform was a key element of the McCain campaign.

Republicans jumped on the issue during Sunday talk shows.

"It was Al Gore who attended that illegal fund-raiser [at the Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles in 1995]… . It's nice to get religion at the last minute," Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a Bush supporter, said on CNN's "Late Edition."

"This is more than just a little teensy-weensy mistake," Bush strategist Karl Rove said on "Fox News Sunday."

"The Buddhist temple involved violations of law, $55,000 in illegal contributions were funneled through the fund-raiser, and the vice president has consistently not told the truth about his involvement in that fund-raiser," Mr. Rove said.

He cited published reports about a memorandum written two years ago by a federal prosecutor urging Attorney General Janet Reno to seek appointment of an independent counsel to investigate suspected violations of campaign finance laws by the vice president.

"The attorney general clearly applied a different standard to the vice president, gave him preferential treatment" and concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing to warrant a probe by an independent counsel, Mr. Rove said on Fox. He made the same arguments on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson and Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, who also appeared on Sunday talk shows, also accused Mr. Gore of breaking the law. "These weren't mistakes. They were crimes," Mr. Hayworth said on "Late Edition."

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson told CNN, "Mistakes were made, but there was nothing illegal."

Democratic National Committee Chairman Ed Rendell also denied Mr. Gore committed criminal offenses. "That's been examined by almost everybody three years ago. That is a dead issue," he said on Fox.

Mr. Nicholson, appearing on the same show, countered: "The issue there is that it hasn't been examined. In fact, the New York Times points out this morning how the Justice Department took a pass on Clinton and Gore."

Mr. Rendell said, "I don't think that anybody could say that Janet Reno has been reluctant to empanel special prosecutors."

"They certainly can," said Mr. Nicholson.

"She's empaneled more than anybody in history," Mr. Rendell said.

As Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush wrangle over campaign finance reform, there's uncertainty in the Republican ranks as to whether Mr. Bush and his former rival, Mr. McCain, will be able to find common ground on that issue.

"There is no way that John McCain is going to step down from his core belief that campaign [finance] reform must be enacted. And … if they don't want to work with him on that, then I don't think he'll do anything to hurt the ticket, but I'm not sure how much enthusiasm he'll have for the ticket," former Sen. Warren Rudman said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

On CNN, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson, who opposed Mr. McCain in the Republican primaries, said, "For Republicans to vote for the McCain-Feingold [campaign finance reform] bill would be like a turkey voting for Thanksgiving."

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