- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2000

Vice President Al Gore, who is trying to link George W. Bush to soaring gasoline prices by emphasizing the Texas governor's ties to the oil industry, controls at least $500,000 worth of stock in Occidental Petroleum.
The stock came from Armand Hammer, an oilman with communist ties who served for decades as financial benefactor to Mr. Gore and his father, Sen. Albert Gore Sr.
Mr. Hammer, who used to brag that he kept the elder Gore "in my back pocket," is believed to have helped recruit Soviet spies to infiltrate the U.S. government.
The Bush campaign said Thursday it is hypocritical for Mr. Gore who controls between $500,000 and $1 million of Occidental stock and is paid $20,000 a year by the firm to portray the Texas governor as a tool of Big Oil.
"Is Al Gore going to sell the upwards of $1 million in stock his family owns in a major oil company?" said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan. "It's clear that Al Gore is trying to divert attention away from the Clinton-Gore administration's lack of leadership and his own past support of higher gas prices."
Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway said the higher prices reflect poorly on Mr. Bush because he once ran oil-exploration firms in Texas and has accepted campaign contributions from oil companies. By contrast, Mr. Hattaway described the vice president as a consumer advocate who is taking on Big Oil to protect America's working families.
"Bush is the one in a pickle because he is so closely tied to the oil industry," Mr. Hattaway told Reuters. "People are probably focusing their anger on the oil companies, which actually set the prices. And it's clear that Gore is taking on the companies."
But since becoming vice president, Mr. Gore has gone out of his way to help Occidental. From 1995 through 1997, he engineered the sale of an oil-rich expanse of publicly owned land known as the Elk Hills field in Bakersfield, Calif. to Occidental.
Elk Hills had been zealously guarded since 1912 as a strategic resource by the Navy. In 1922, oilmen bribed President Harding's interior secretary for secret drilling leases, the subsequent exposure of which resulted in the Teapot Dome scandal.
Congress resisted privatization attempts by Presidents Nixon and Reagan, but relented when President Clinton pushed it through as one of Mr. Gore's "reinventing government" reforms.
The sale of Elk Hills to Occidental was a dramatic departure for an administration that has walled off huge expanses of private land for public preserves.
"It was the largest privatization of federal property in U.S. history, one that tripled Occidental's U.S. oil reserves overnight," wrote Charles Lewis of the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity in his book, "The Buying of the President 2000."
The Energy Department normally assesses the environmental impact of such a sale, but in this case, it allowed a private firm, ICF Kaiser International, to do the assessment. One of ICF's directors is Tony Coelho, who managed Mr. Gore's presidential campaign until stepping down this month.
"There is clear hypocrisy here because the company that Al Gore is closest to in the United States today is an oil company Occidental Petroleum," Mr. Lewis told The Washington Times yesterday. "Politically, in terms of things he's done for them and things they've done for him, they're two peas in a pod."
Occidental's founder and chief executive officer, Mr. Hammer transformed Mr. Gore's father a financially struggling freshman congressman from rural Tennessee in the 1930s into the millionaire CEO of an Occidental subsidiary who was paid $500,000 a year by the time he retired from the Senate in 1971. Mr. Hammer died in 1990 and the elder Gore died in 1998.
Mr. Hammer, who was classified in Soviet KGB files as an "agent of influence" for Moscow, also bestowed his largess on the younger Gore.
For decades, Occidental has paid the vice president $20,000 a year for mineral rights to zinc-rich land held by the Gore family in Carthage, Tenn. The firm continues to make the payments even though it has never mined the land.
Occidental loaned $100,000 to the committee handling the Clinton-Gore inauguration. And, according to a White House memo, Occidental gave $50,000 to the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign after being solicited by Mr. Gore from his White House office in a phone call he said was covered by "no controlling legal authority."
Occidental has given nearly half a million dollars in soft money to Democrats since Mr. Gore became vice president. Two days after Occidental's new chairman, Ray Irani, slept in the Lincoln Bedroom, Occidental gave $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee.
A Democratic source close to Mr. Gore did not attempt to distance the vice president from Occidental. But the source argued that Mr. Gore's blaming of the oil industry for soaring gasoline prices proves the vice president is willing to buck his own allies.
"There's a big difference between being connected to somebody and speaking out against them, and being connected with somebody and doing what they say," the source said.
But Mr. Gore's connections to Occidental have angered his environmentalist allies. Eight environmental protesters were jailed in New Hampshire earlier this year after disrupting a Gore event by demanding he sever his ties with Occidental.
Environmentalists are upset about Occidental's plan to drill on sacred ancestral land of a Colombian Indian tribe, which is threatening mass suicide if the drilling goes forward. Mr. Gore has refused to divest from Occidental or use his leverage to block the planned drilling.
On Capitol Hill yesterday, Republicans ridiculed Mr. Gore's assertion that high gas prices are the result of price gouging by oil companies.
"We're not being gouged," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas. "We're being Gored."
Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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