Is Gore gouging taxpayers?

Vice president uses White House staffers in campaign and tries to rob Republicans of crime issue. Bush boosts budget with new numbers, and veep hopefuls creep forward.

Published May 3, 2000 11:00AM (EDT)

Your tax dollars may be hard at work on Al Gore's campaign. The Associated Press reports that White House staff members have clocked serious hours in the vice president's election effort, and singles out Gene Sperling, head of President Clinton's National Economic Council, and domestic policy advisor Bruce Reed. For example, Sperling and his staff crunched numbers for Gore's critique of George W. Bush's tax plan, and Reed is the prime contact for questions about Gore's new crime package. "These guys are dropping any pretense of a separation between campaign and government," said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.

The Gore team insists that the White House staffers are all volunteers in the campaign and says that they continue to work 40 hours a week on official business. "Anyone who helps out works strictly according to the rules, and we're grateful for them," said Doug Hattaway, a Gore spokesman. The Bush campaign has been quiet on the matter thus far, perhaps because of its own purported history of putting Texas government officials to work on the campaign.

Gore steals crime issue

The vice president is trying to rob Republicans of their traditional law-and-order advantage by announcing a $1.3 billion anti-crime initiative to law enforcement officers in Georgia, according to the Los Angeles Times. Gore would grant additional federal money for hiring new police officers and advocates anti-gang measures and victims' rights legislation. The plan's centerpiece, the New York Times reports, is $500 million for drug testing and treatment of state prison inmates and parolees. Gore declared that more aggressive substance abuse intervention in prisons would lower recidivism rates and reduce crime, unlike current policies that send inmates "back to the streets unrehabilitated, unrepentant and unskilled."

According to the Washington Post, Gore also used the speech to take another swing at Bush and his Texas record. Gore spokesman Chris Lehane accused Bush of slashing nearly $200 million a year from drug treatment programs for prisoners, and said that Texas' recidivism rate of 40 percent outpaces the national rate. Team Bush shot back that Gore's Texas stats were cooked for maximum rhetorical impact. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer quipped, "Al Gore invents numbers just like he invented the Internet."

Bush banks on budget bright side

According to the AP, Bush did a little creative calculating of his own when measuring how much federal money would be available for his proposed tax cut. In the light of new economic data, Bush has revised his estimate of the 2002-to-2006 budget surplus to $647 billion, a $61 billion swell from his campaign's earlier estimates. The Texas governor further predicts a $1.83 trillion surplus from 2001 to 2010, a figure that doubles January estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The Bush plan owes its optimism to new numbers issued by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation, which is controlled by Republicans.

The creeping veep campaign

As the candidates fight to be America's top dog, many politicians apparently envy Gore's current job as second fiddle. The New York Times reports that a stealth battle for vice president has heated up on both sides. Hitting the stump early and often for one's prospective boss -- as Democrat John Kerry and Republicans Tom Ridge and Elizabeth Dole have done -- may help one make the shortlist, but the best way to go after the job of vice president may be to play hard to get. Republican Jack Kemp, the bottom half of Robert Dole's losing ticket in 1996, advises, "Keep your mouth shut, your head down, and don't act like you want it."

States make primary picks

Amid the continuing parlor games of the general election, some states held real races with actual voters and results. The Washington Post reports that North Carolina Democrats nominated state Attorney General Mike Easley and Republicans nominated former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. In Indiana, Brian Kerns, former chief of staff for retiring two-term 7th District Republican Rep. Ed Pease, bested an eight-candidate field in a rough primary contest. Results from the Democratic contest, irrelevant in the GOP-dominated 7th District, are not yet final.

Open invitations wreck parties

Washington Post columnist David S. Broder believes that open primaries doom remaining distinctions between Republicans and Democrats. California's blanket-primary law, which allows voter participation regardless of party of affiliation, is currently under review by the Supreme Court. Broder writes that the statute reduces the primary process to a mass popularity contest, rewarding the least ideologically committed candidates on every side. The result: Mushy middle-of-the-roaders win on appearances while the real choices are made by backroom party operatives. Broder warns that "if the 'blanket primary' is upheld, it could easily become the shroud in which the party system is buried."

Webmasters of their domain

Internet experts are succeeding image makers as the chief tools for savvy candidates, according to the Washington Post. In its fourth article in a series about political consultants, the Post finds that the emphasis on fund-raising in elections increases the attraction of the low-cost outreach available online. "I guarantee you that raising funds online is always cheaper than direct mail or telemarketing," said Tom Hockaday of Campaign Solutions, a political Internet company.

While online politicking has produced a lot of buzz, so far it has yet to win big races. Republican also-ran Steve Forbes spent $1 million on Internet campaigning, and John McCain, whose campaign relied heavily on the Internet, also fell short.

Whom should you vote for?

Take our survey and find out. You might be surprised.

Poll positions

Presidential race:

  • Bush 49 to Gore 44 (Gallup/CNN/USA Today April 28-30).

  • Bush 47 to Gore 38 (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll April 26-27).

  • Bush 43 to Gore 41 (CBS News April 15-17).

  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (Newsweek April 13-14).

  • Bush 45 to Gore 40 (Marist College April 3-5).

  • Bush 46 to Gore 42 (Zogby April 1-4).

    Vice presidential preferences (previous):

    Preferences for Republican vice presidential candidate among all voters (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll March 22-23):

  • John McCain, 27 percent
  • Elizabeth Dole, 19 percent
  • Rudy Giuliani, 6 percent
  • Christine Todd Whitman, 6 percent
  • George Pataki, 3 percent
  • Tom Ridge, 3 percent
  • Fred Thompson, 3 percent
  • Connie Mack, 2 percent
  • Other, 3 percent
  • Not sure, 28 percent

    Preferences for Democratic vice presidential candidate among all voters (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll March 22-23):

  • Bill Bradley, 27 percent
  • Dianne Feinstein, 10 percent
  • Bob Kerrey, 6 percent
  • Bob Graham, 5 percent
  • John Kerry, 4 percent
  • Bill Richardson, 4 percent
  • Evan Bayh, 3 percent
  • Other, 6 percent
  • Not sure, 35 percent

    New York Senate:

  • Clinton 46 to Giuliani 44 (Quinnipiac College April 24-30).

  • Clinton 43 to Giuliani 43 (Zogby April 28-29).

  • Clinton 52 to Giuliani 42 (New York Times/CBS News April 1-5).

  • Giuliani 46 to Clinton 43 (Marist Institute March 27-28).

    On the trail

    Bush: California.

    Gore: New Jersey and New York.

    Talking heads

  • C-Span's "Washington Journal":

    7 a.m. -- Open phones.

    8:15 a.m. -- Segment on elementary/secondary education bill; guests TBA.

    9 a.m. -- Open phones.

    9:15 a.m. -- Susan Glasser, Washington Post, on the profession of political consulting.

    Watch "Washington Journal" on the Web.

    Sound off

    E-mail Trail Mix with your comments, suggestions and tips at

  • By Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

    MORE FROM Alicia Montgomery

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