- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

The revelation that a staffer for Sen. Mel Martinez added a political strategy point to a memo on the merits of a bill to save Terri Schiavo’s life is not the first time that the Florida Republican has been embarrassed by freelancing aides.

Mr. Martinez, who said he was “disappointed” by the actions of staff lawyer Brian Darling, faced a similar situation during his Republican senatorial primary last year.

The Martinez campaign sent out a support mailer calling opponent Bill McCollum “the new darling of the homosexual extremists” because of his support for the 2000 federal hate-crimes bill, which included protection for homosexuals.

The mailer was used in tandem with a TV ad that used excerpts from Mr. McCollum’s 2000 Senate campaign, in which he called himself a “moderate,” to give the impression that he supported homosexual “marriage.”

A source familiar with the 2004 campaign said that both the campaign-mailer incident and the Schiavo memo speak more to Mr. Martinez’s easygoing management style than an attempt to use the case of Mrs. Schiavo, who died last week 13 days after her feeding tube was removed, for his party’s political gain.

“Mel never gets the whole truth,” the source said.

The source said Mr. Martinez first found out about the mailer from a reporter covering his campaign. In that instance, he denied seeing the mailer before it went out and said he never authorized it.

Mr. Martinez fired his campaign manager in midrace for acting autonomously on certain matters. And the source said the person who actually wrote the mailing, which caused the St. Petersburg Times to rescind its primary endorsement, might not have been the person blamed and fired for it.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that Mr. Martinez said his office produced an anonymous political talking-points memo containing one point on how the Schiavo situation could be used to “hurt Democrats,” specifically Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, and to energize the party’s “evangelical base.”

Mr. Martinez said he unwittingly passed the memo to Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat. This revelation came after days of denials from Mr. Martinez and his staff, including during a survey by The Washington Times of all 100 senators.

The Martinez team said, as did every other Republican Senate office, that it had not seen the memo and had no knowledge of how it was produced.

In this more recent case, Mr. Martinez was undone by advisory counsel Mr. Darling, a 39-year-old with an extensive career in politics as a legislative counsel.

His biography from the Virginians Over-Taxed on Residences Web site shows he has been a lobbyist for the pro-gun rights firm of Alexander Strategy Group; general counsel for former Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican; a counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee; and an aide to former Sens. Paul Coverdell of Georgia and Steve Symms of Idaho, both Republicans.

Mr. Darling led a Senate bid to allow commercial airline pilots to carry firearms in flight. In 2000, after visiting the home where Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez was staying, he worked on legislation that sought to grant the 6-year-old boy permanent U.S. residence and block his being sent back to the communist nation. He also worked on the Bush-Cheney recount team in Florida.

Although Mr. Martinez is taking the heat for the memo, what remains unclear is the role of the Senate Democratic leadership in leaking the memo to ABC News and The Washington Post, which wrote that the memo was “an unsigned one-page memo, distributed to Republican senators.”

Neither report cited its sources, but a later article by The Post and one by the New York Times said the memo was given to reporters by Democratic aides.

The Washington Times conducted a survey of all 100 Senate offices in which only Mr. Harkin admitted to seeing the memo being passed around on the Senate floor, while all 55 Republicans — including Mr. Martinez — denied having any knowledge of it.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, told the survey by The Washington Times that “news outlets have investigated and authenticated the memo was real and came from Republican sources.”

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