- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

Being on the take or giving the appearance of being on the take such is the dilemma facing Virginia Democrat Rep. James P. Moran, who in 1999 accepted an unsecured $25,000 "loan" from a friend who just happened to be working on behalf of a drug company. Just days after receiving the loan from lobbyist Terry Lierman, Mr. Moran co-sponsored a bill that would extend the Schering-Plough Corp.'s lucrative patent on the drug Claritin. He also wrote an effusive letter to fellow Democrats urging them to support Schering-Plough's drive for a patent extension. Coincidence?

Mr. Moran hotly denies that the loan which specifies no due date and which was made at a below-market interest rate of 8 percent vs. the average 12.5 percent one would normally pay through a bank was a pay-off of any kind. He says it was simply a matter of an old friend helping him out during a period of financial crisis during his divorce. It's nice to have friends who can help this way. Unfortunately, most non-politicians don't have the kinds of friends who can make unsecured loans of $25,000 with no repayment schedule.

On Tuesday, the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that the Lierman loan amounted to an illegal campaign contribution because Mr. Moran, at the time the loan was made, happened to be running for re-election to the House. Thus the loan violated the $1,000 per donation limit set by federal law.

Whatever the ruling will be, ethical problems abound. In an effort at damage-control late Wednesday, Mr. Moran announced he would repay the loan in full immediately along with interest of 12.8 percent by borrowing money from his family. This does not alter the fact that the loan was made in the first place, of course and made under questionable circumstances.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lierman has changed hats and is now a candidate for office attempting to unseat Maryland Republican Rep. Connie Morella. While there is no doubt that Mr. Moran's ethical liabilities in this far outweigh Mr. Lierman's, voters in Maryland might take into account the judgment displayed by both Mr. Moran and Mr. Lierman when they head to the polls next week. The prudent course for voters is straightforward pull the level for the Republican tickets in Virginia and Maryland.

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