- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Back when federal lawmakers could legally be paid for speaking to outside groups, John Kerry collected more than $120,000 in fees from interests as diverse as big oil, tobacco, the liquor lobby and unions, records show.

From 1985 to 1990, Mr. Kerry’s first five years in the Senate from Massachusetts, he pocketed annual amounts slightly less than the limits for speaking fees set by Congress. Unlike many colleagues, he donated a speaking fee to charity only once, according to annual financial-disclosure reports reviewed by the Associated Press.

One of the companies to pay Mr. Kerry $1,000 for a speech in 1987, Miami-based Metalbanc, later was indicted, along with two executives, on charges it helped the Cali drug cartel in Colombia launder money in the United States. The charges eventually were dropped because the firm was defunct.

At the time of the 1987 speech to Metalbanc, Mr. Kerry was chairman of the Senate subcommittee that investigated drug trafficking and money laundering.

Mr. Kerry, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he didn’t learn about the drug connection to the company or its executives, who also gave him political donations, until the Boston Globe informed him of it in 1996. He donated several thousand dollars to charities to make amends.

Mr. Kerry’s ethics reports show he made more than 90 paid speeches from 1985, when he first took office, to 1990, when Congress began the move to end speaking fees.

The senator’s campaign acknowledged Sunday that he accepted the fees, but said he also gave several speeches a year for free.

“He gave these speeches to address what he saw as the important issues at the time such as the growing national deficit,” spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said. “In compliance with the law, he accepted small speaking fees from some of the groups he spoke to, and, in at least one case, donated that money to charity.”

At the time when Mr. Kerry could accept speaking fees, senators were forced to abide by annual limits, which ranged from $26,568 to $35,800. Legislators often exceeded the limit, but gave the money to charity.

Mr. Kerry reported donating a speaking fee to charity only once, when he was paid $2,000 in 1988 to speak to the RJR Nabisco tobacco and food conglomerate, his reports state.

A longtime federal-election regulator said Mr. Kerry’s extensive speaking efforts after he arrived in Washington followed a path taken by many new lawmakers who were not wealthy. With congressional salaries half what they are today, many lawmakers pressed to find outside income from special interests.

“Members were often pulled almost like a magnet into a circle of lobbyists, who were very willing to pay large honoraria for them to give a brief speech or a talk to their organization or group,” said Kent Cooper, former public-disclosure chief for the Federal Election Commission, who now runs a Web site that studies political donations and lobbying.

“This provided instant cash to a member and, at the same time, built a relationship with that lobbyist or organization,” Mr. Cooper said.

Several of the Democratic candidates this year have accepted special-interest speaking fees in their career. Wesley Clark, a retired Army general, collected more than $1 million in speaking and consulting fees after his military retirement, and Howard Dean accepted speaking fees about a half-dozen times while governor of Vermont.

In 1985, Mr. Kerry’s freshman year in the Senate, he supplemented his $75,000 salary with $19,480 in speaking fees. The next year, the fees grew to $22,725. In 1995, Mr. Kerry married Teresa Heinz, widow of ketchup-fortune heir Sen. John Heinz, Pennsylvania Republican.

Mr. Kerry’s paid speaking engagements included several traditional Democratic constituencies, such as the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union; law firms; and the St. Louis Women’s Democratic Committee.

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