- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

The most seminal moment on Super Tuesday, March 7, came late in the evening when a triumphant Al Gore was making the rounds of the network news shows.

He went on MSNBC for what he apparently thought would be a chummy interview with Tom Brokaw. But when the sanctimonious Mr. Gore started into an unsolicited attack on George W. Bush on the issue of campaign finance reform, Mr. Brokaw spanked him like an angry parent. Wasn't Mr. Gore vulnerable on that issue? the anchor asked. Wasn't it a fact that one of his nearest and dearest money launderers, Maria Hsia, was just convicted of funneling more than $100,000 in illegal contributions to the party of Mr. Gore in 1996, most of which she took in at that infamous Buddhist temple fund-raiser in Hacienda Heights?

Mr. Gore sat there stunned, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. After so many "uhs" and "ums," his robot brain finally kicked in, and he began mouthing a rote defense.

"I made a mistake… . The importance of making mistakes is what you learn from them… . What I learned from it was the need for campaign finance reform… . I agree with … John McCain that campaign finance reform ought to be adopted."

It was a stunning response. Not because of what Mr. Gore said. But because he managed to say it while keeping a straight face, betraying not the slightest hint of irony. For the very idea that Mr. Gore, of all money-grubbing pols, would dare to proclaim himself a champion of campaign finance reform is no less absurd than, say, O.J. Simpson declaring himself a crusader on behalf of battered women.

Indeed, while Mr. Gore has tried, shamelessly, to link himself with Mr. McCain on the issue of campaign finance reform obviously hoping to win over voters who cast primary ballots for the Arizona Republican Mr. McCain himself has referred to the illegal fund-raising for which Hsia was convicted, and for which other Democratic muck-rakers deserve to be convicted, as "a conspiracy that went right into the White House."

Mr. Gore denies such a felonious conspiracy even as he admits to "mistakes" but recent revelations in the news suggest the vice president knew far more about illegal fund-raising activities during his 1996 campaign than he has previously let on.

Indeed, The San Jose Mercury News obtained a batch of previously undisclosed documents which, it reported, "indicate that [Gore] would have had reason to believe" the luncheon he attended at the tax-exempt Buddhist Temple "was for the purpose of raising political money, despite his claims to the contrary." It cites an e-mail message written by the vice president several weeks before the event proving that he knew he would be attending a fund-raiser in Southern California on April 29, 1996.

And since the Buddhist Temple event was Mr. Gore's only stop in Southern California on that date, the Harvard grad almost surely had to figure out that the luncheon Hsia organized on his behalf was a fund-raiser. And if the veep couldn't figure it out on his own, then someone or other on his staff must have clued him in. For practically everyone on the Gore team from his deputy chief of staff, David Strauss, to his scheduler, Kimberly Tilley, to his Secret Service detachment, to the Gore family dogs, Shiloh and Daisy knew the boss was attending a fund-raiser at the tax-exempt Buddhist Temple.

And if Mr. Gore truly didn't know it up to the moment he arrived at the temple, where he was greeted by dozens of saffron-robed monks, he certainly knew it once the luncheon began and at least two of the podium speakers referred to the event as a fund-raiser in the veep's presence.

Yet, to this day, Mr. Gore, the wannabe campaign finance reformer, insists he was blissfully unaware that the temple event was a fund-raiser; that he was under the impression he was simply attending a "community outreach" event (even as his campaign staff was accepting $1,000 checks from monks and nuns sworn to poverty).

And Mr. Gore's duplicity on the campaign finance issue continues to reveal itself. Indeed, having challenged Gov. Bush earlier this week to a mutual halt in raising unlimited "soft money" which goes to the political parties rather than the candidates themselves, for "party-building" activities and issue advertising" the veep kicked off a drive the very next day to help Democrats raise $35 million in such funds.

The New York Times reports that several Democratic fund-raisers have been invited to a luncheon with Mr. Gore later this month, during which the veep is expected to ask each of them to raise at least $100,000 in soft money before the party's convention in mid-August. Too bad Maria Hsia can't make it.

Joseph Perkins is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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