Vice President Al Gore, who has refused tobacco contributions to his presidential campaign and is trying to distance himself from past fund-raising fiascoes, allowed a tobacco magnate and operatives involved in campaign-finance scandals to redecorate his vice presidential mansion.
Those donors and other corporate scions pumped more than $1 million into a nonprofit foundation that Mr. Gore used as a “tool” to “cultivate relationships with some generous donors, many of whom are now supporting his bid for the presidency,” according to a report released yesterday.
Tobacco executive Bennett LeBow donated $2,000 to the foundation. His separate donations to Mr. Gore’s campaign were returned because the campaign will “not accept contributions from tobacco [political action committees], nor do we accept them from tobacco corporate entities,” said former Gore campaign spokesman Roger Salazar.
“It is just another case of the vice president, who has a sanctimonious attitude in public, operating under the radar,” said Pat Harrison, Republican National Committee co-chairman. “This is the same man who said [he] didn’t know it was a Buddhist temple.”
Unlike the tobacco money, Mr. Gore will not return any of it because the donations were not made to him, but to an entity called the Vice President’s Residence Foundation, his spokesman Laura Quinn said.
“He didn’t accept it. He doesn’t solicit money for the foundation. He doesn’t manage money for the foundation. These are foundation decisions apart from the vice president,” Ms. Quinn said.
The Center for Public Integrity report says the contributors donated or helped pay for a $15,000 cherry cabinet, a hot tub, a basketball court, an $80,000 garden, a $30,000 sculpture, a $6,000 pool table and other improvements at the 33-room mansion.
Many of the contributors, such as Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates who donated a $30,000 glass sculpture through his own foundation, also are major soft-money donors to the Democratic Party and have contributed to Mr. Gore’s presidential campaign.
That creates “a cause for concern” because it “gives a small group of people access to the halls of power,” said Peter Eisner, a director at the nonpartisan watchdog group that got the donor list.
The list of donors to the fund includes Mark Jimenez, whom the Justice Department is trying to extradite from the Philippines where he fled last year after he was indicted on 17 counts of making illegal campaign contributions. Also on the list is Howard Glicken, who was fined $80,000 and sentenced to community service for illegally raising foreign campaign contributions.
Franklin Haney, a $10,000 donor, was indicted on 42 counts of making illegal contributions, but was acquitted last year after his attorney argued that “nobody committed a crime because nobody thought they were doing anything wrong.”
Former Clinton-Gore fund-raiser Peter Knight headed the foundation’s fund-raising efforts in 1997 while Mr. Gore was defending fund-raising telephone calls made at the White House.
Mr. Gore released a partial list of the fund’s donors. Dan Quayle, who created the foundation in 1991, did not identify any of the donors who paid for a $130,000 pool and a putting green at the mansion when he was vice president.