- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2000

Question from Democrats: How can Republican leadership support a group that shields the NRA, Big Tobacco and HMOs at the expense of America's families?

Joe Andrew, Democratic national chairman: The Republican Attorneys General Association met in Austin this week, and its schemes to raise campaign funds are raising eyebrows even among its own Republican members. The reason? Republican attorneys general are soliciting large campaign contributions from special interests that are either involved in, or trying to avoid, lawsuits from those same officials.

Some of those key interests include Big Tobacco, the gun lobby and the health insurance industry. In fact, the reason Republicans formed the association to protect those interests from lawsuits that would hold them accountable for their products and conduct.

Attorneys general haven't traditionally raised large, soft-money contributions for obvious reasons to avoid conflicts of interest with people and companies they may end up prosecuting. But George W. Bush and the association are breaking all the traditional taboos on fund-raising.

Bush aides claim the association is separate from his campaign, just as they said other groups that ran TV ads on Mr. Bush's behalf during crucial primaries were independent the Republican Leadership Council, the National Smokers Alliance, the Wyly brothers and Shape the Debate. All were supposedly unconnected to Mr. Bush.

But the facts are different. The highlight of the association's two-day meeting in Austin was a "political briefing" from Karl Rove, George W. Bush's top strategist. Association donors originally planned to attend a reception at George W. Bush's governor's mansion, but according to The Washington Post, "the site was changed last week after media inquiries. Mansion staffers said the RAGA reservation was canceled the same day Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked about it." Later, donors wound up their weekend with an afternoon of skeet and trap shooting, sponsored by the National Rifle Association.

By setting up an organization specifically designed to stop attempts to hold the tobacco and gun industries responsible for their deadly products, Republicans are acting against the interests of children, and in favor of companies that have made it easier for children to get their hands on cigarettes and handguns.

Jim Nicholson, Republican national chairman: Once again, Joe is trying to mislead our readers.

Yes, the Republican Attorneys General Association recently met, and joining them were representatives of many American companies. So what? Everything was perfectly legal and out in the open, under the watchful gaze of the national press corps.

By stark contrast, Al Gore's 1996 campaign collected money covertly and illicitly. Cash came from Communist China. Maria Hsia, a communist Chinese agent, was recently convicted of laundering money to Mr. Gore through Buddhist monks and nuns. Mr. Gore said he "didn't know it was a fund-raiser," even though the Secret Service did, the monks put money into his pockets and they all talked about money.

Al Gore twists the truth like Bill Clinton but he continues to call Maria Hsia a "supporter and friend."

It's not hard to see why Joe would rather not talk about what Maria Hsia asked of Mr. Gore in exchange for these criminal favors. It's not hard to understand why they would rather not talk about the 17 others who have been convicted of campaign finance violations stemming from the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign. It is not hard to understand why they'd rather throw out baseless charges against honest Republicans instead. If the Democrats want to continue along this low road, so be it. Meanwhile, last week, Gov. George W. Bush offered his "Strong Teachers, Strong Schools" proposal a plan designed to increase the opportunities for skilled Americans to become teachers, expand teacher training, support teachers who enforce classroom discipline, and provide tax incentives to help teachers.

That proposal closely followed Mr. Bush's proposal to combat childhood illiteracy by spending $5 billion over five years to help 900,000 disadvantaged students learn how to read.

Republicans are offering positive proposals to help fix public schools broken by 40 years of Democrat control and neglect. Democrats, sadly, are basing their campaign on yet more Clintonian distortions and distractions. The American people know that they can't be trusted.

And our children need help now not more Clinton-Gore sleight of hand.

Joe Andrew is national chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Jim Nicholson is chairman of the Republican National Committee.

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