- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2000

President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, proponents of campaign-finance reform, teamed last night to raise a record $26 million for the Democratic National Committee.

Mr. Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Gore and his wife, Tipper, headlined a "National Tribute to President Clinton" at Washington's MCI Center.

The blue jeans and barbecue bash for 12,000 donors including 26 co-chairmen who contributed or raised $500,000 apiece featured comedian Robin Williams and musicians Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz, LeAnn Rimes and Darius Rucker, lead singer of the band Hootie and the Blowfish.

The top donors sat at tables with checked tops on the arena floor and dined on egalitarian fare of barbecue from Little Rock, Ark., and Memphis, Tenn., washed down with Budweiser, soft drinks or bottled water.

As Mr. Clinton took the podium, he was greeted with a chant somewhere in the audience of "Stop corruption now." Mr. Clinton, dressed in a sports shirt and faded jeans, leaned forward on the podium and fired back.

"I don't believe that it's corruption to take money to pass the Brady bill instead of beat it," Mr. Clinton said, "[or] to pass the family and medical leave bill so 21 million ordinary working people can take some time off when their babies are born or their parents are sick."

Mr. Gore also sounded a defensive note at the beginning of his brief remarks.

"If you entrust me with the presidency," Mr. Gore said. "The good news is that we can all come back here in four years and it won't cost much at all because we're going to pass McCain-Feingold and the Democracy Endowment and make meaningful campaign-finance reform the law of the land."

The mix of "hard money" and unregulated "soft money" will buy ads for Mr. Gore and for Democratic congressional candidates. The bash comes a month after the Republicans raked in $21.3 million for Texas Gov. George W. Bush at a Washington fund-raiser.

"The presidency is on the auction block, and the Congress is for sale," said L. Scott Harshbarger, Common Cause president and a Democrat, yesterday.

Mr. Gore's role in the fund-raiser prompts doubts that the vice president's commitment to campaign-finance reform is an "election-year conversion," said Mr. Harshbarger, a former Massachusetts attorney general.

The record fund-raiser comes nearly two months after Mr. Gore, saying he was "an imperfect messenger" for campaign-finance reform, called for a ban on on "soft-money" contributions.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said yesterday that Mr. Clinton has no queasiness about attending the largest-ever campaign fund-raising event.

"We want to change the system," Mr. Lockhart said. "There is only one single reason why the system hasn't been changed, and that's the Republican leadership that has thwarted now three years in a row a process that could have brought us fundamental change.

"As long as they block that change, we will continue to work within [the system] and work to ultimately elect leaders who will stop this effort to block campaign finance [reform]."

Mr. Lockhart said 75 percent of last night's attendees paid $50.

Mr. Clinton recently has shared the stage with Mr. Gore at tony fund-raisers in Beverly Hills and New York. But neither came close to the size of last night's bash.

Mr. Gore is under fire for attending a Buddhist temple fund-raiser and for raising cash from his White House office in 1996.

The $21 million Republican fund-raiser and the $26 million Democratic bash make the 1996 scandal "pale in comparison," Mr. Harshbarger said. "It also demonstrates that the major parties are committed to essentially a nuclear arms race for money."

Mr. Gore pledged in March to put campaign-finance reform at the center of his campaign.

"I understand the doubts about whether I personally am serious on campaign reform," Mr. Gore said. "And I know I may be an imperfect messenger for this cause. But the real wounds will be to our democracy itself unless we address this problem."

Mr. Gore also noted that the National Rifle Association led by Charlton Heston has made him its No. 1 target.

"If I remember my Bible correctly," Mr. Gore said, "the last time Moses listened to a bush, his people wandered in the desert for 40 years."

Mr. Clinton said he had mixed emotions as he watched a film that celebrated him as an economic visionary and a peacemaker.

"Before I got into my second term here, I was always the youngest person who did anything," he said. "Now I'm up here in my old boots and my old jeans. I'm just kind of an old, gray-haired redneck trying to put in some good months here."

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