Who -- me? A reformer?

Maybe nobody's noticed it yet, but nominating sex-mad tycoon Donald Trump for president would violate the Reform Party's first principle -- not to mention, common sense.

Published January 6, 2000 12:00PM (EST)

With word from Trump castle that King Donald is now 70-percent sure to make a bid for the White House, it's an appropriate time to ask some questions:

Why does this sex-mad millionaire believe the Reform Party is the appropriate playmate for his presidential romp?

For its part, why would this party even consider getting into bed with the him?

After all, in case no one's noticed, Trump violates the first principle of the Reform Party.

In 1997, at its founding convention in Kansas City, the party passed a platform that began with eight "constitutional principles." The very first of these reads, "We shall seek to reform our electoral, lobbying and campaign practices to ensure that our elected government officials and our candidates owe their allegiance and remain accountable to the people whom they are elected to serve rather than other influence-seeking agencies." Now if there ever was an individual who qualified all by himself as an "influence seeking agency," it would have to be The Donald. He has bragged openly about his pay-to-play political activities: "I'm a very big contributor ... " he's said. "I'm maxed out every year."

By that he means he hands out as much as a fat cat is allowed to hand out directly to federal candidates in any given year: $25,000. According to federal election records, Trump has cut checks to House and Senate candidates of both parties -- including Republicans Trent Lott, Susan Molinari, John McCain, Al D'Amato and Orrin Hatch; and Democrats Edward Kennedy, Richard Gephardt and Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- a sure sign that his giving is motivated not by ideological conviction but by a desire to gain access to and influence within the legislative process.

In the last presidential election, he made a whopping gift of $251,000 in soft money to the Republican Party; then, to cover his bets, he tossed another $27,500 in chump change at the Democratic Party.

Sometimes, he goes too far. In 1993, he was found guilty of breaking federal election laws by exceeding the annual contributions limit by $47,050, and had to pay a fine of $15,000. Trump is not only a poster boy for the very campaign finance system so strongly opposed by the Reform Party, he also is out of sync with the party's first principle when it comes to lobbying. The casino lord has never been shy about using his financial resources to hire teams of lobbyists to advance his interests in Congress.

In 1998, the Trump Organization, according to disclosure statements compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, paid lobbyist Roger Stone $162,250 to lobby on several gambling issues, such as the formation of a national committee to study the consequences of gambling, the transportation of gaming devices and the tax treatment of gaming losses. (Stone is now Trump's leading political consultant.)

Trump also hired two high-powered lobbyist law firms: Dyer, Ellis and Joseph; and Greenberg, Traurig, Hoffman, Lipoff, Rosen and Quentel.

Dyer, Ellis has massaged the Hill regarding oil, coal and shipping companies; Greenberg, Traurig has worked the hallways of Congress on behalf of drug manufacturers and health-care corporations. In other words, Trump is smack-dab in the middle of the institutionally corrupt contribution-and-influence system the Reform Party bemoans.

Trump also plays this game outside of Washington. From 1995 through 1998, Trump's various companies spent almost $3 million to lobby lawmakers and members of the executive branch in New Jersey and New York. Of course, he hired the biggest guns. In New Jersey, he retained the Princeton Public Affairs Group, headed by lobbyist Dale Florio, who previously ran the multi-million-dollar state lobbying program of tobacco giant Philip Morris. Florio is a chief lobbyist for HMOs in New Jersey. Also in Trump's Garden State bullpen is the firm of Sterns and Weinroth, which lobbies for the insurance industry. In New York in 1998 Trump paid more money to lobbyists than any influence buyer but one -- New York Life Insurance. To stop casino gambling in the upstate Catskills region, he pumped $685,500 into the pockets of lobbyists. Of course, if legalized gambling started up in the Catskills, New Yorkers might head to those hills rather than Trump's casinos in Atlantic City.

One of Trump's leading lobbyists in this crusade was Albert Pirro, a key fundraiser for Republican Gov. George Pataki. Certainly, Pirro's money-shaking endeavors for Pataki and other GOP officials helped him become a powerful influence peddler in Albany and a good catch for Trump.

Unfortunately for Trump, Pirro's effectiveness may have slipped recently. Last year Pirro, the husband of Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, was indicted on federal tax evasion charges for conspiring to hide $1 million in income. He also was in the local news recently for fathering an out-of-wedlock child. In Washington, Trenton, and Albany, Trump has been spending his money not to better the lot of Americans but to line his own pockets. His commitment to political reform is nonexistent. Still, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura has been encouraging Trump to throw his ego into the Reform Party ring.

Trump's presidential flirtation may be getting serious. Stone said Thursday that the tycoon plans to launch an advertising blitz later this spring on the three major networks and on cable in the form of five-minute "fireside chats" on universal health care and national debt reduction.

"The suspense will be gone for the major party candidates and they'll be out of money (by then)," Stone told the Associated Press. "Trump, in contrast, will not have to spend anything until April. He could have the stage all to himself."

Ventura, of course, is concerned with finding a candidate who can block Pat Buchanan so that Ventura can have his own clean shot at the party's nomination in 2004.

Of course, as a social conservative and anti-immigration advocate, Buchanan violates Principle 6: "We, the members of the Reform Party, celebrate our heritage of individual liberty, recognizing that one of our greatest strengths is our diversity; and we will foster tolerance of the customs, beliefs, and private actions of all persons which do not infringe upon the rights of others."

Perhaps all of Trump's clatter about moving into the White House is no more than the vanity gag of a publicity hound who has a new book to hawk. But if the Reform Party truly cares about reform, its members should keep shopping for another egotist. Trump would be a better fit with the who-the-hell-needs-a-reform-party crowd.

By David Corn

David Corn is the Washington editor of the Nation, a columnist for the New York Press and author of a political suspense novel, "Deep Background" (St.Martin's Press).

MORE FROM David Corn

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Campaign Finance Donald Trump