McCain's new cleanup crusade

The Arizona senator battles phantom donors, Microsoft leans right after the breakup ruling and nice-guy Gore closes in on Bush.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published June 8, 2000 7:13PM (EDT)

Former Republican presidential contender John McCain has introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill to close the Section 527 "loophole" in the tax code. The measure would mandate complete disclosure of donors to the shadowy nonprofits behind several dubious campaign ads. In a Salon interview, McCain said the measure's fate is uncertain. "We keep hearing that there are strenuous efforts against this, that they're trying to find some parliamentary maneuvers to keep it from coming to a vote," he said. The Senate may act on the amendment as early as today.

McCain found himself on the wrong end of a 527 ad during his primary race, when Republicans for Clean Air ran television spots against him on the eve of the crucial New York primary. Many credit the ads for contributing to George W. Bush's narrow victory. However, McCain's interest in the issue is of long standing, and he thinks donor disclosure is essential to dispelling the nation's fears about who is financing the campaign process. "Americans were concerned about the Chinese money coming into the 1996 elections," he said. With the 527 exemption, McCain believes even more unsavory elements have entered the political racket. "Criminals, Mafioso, drug dealers ... Anybody can play," he said.

Gates sours on Gore
Microsoft can't push around his competitors anymore, but Al Gore may yet feel Bill Gate's wrath. CNN reports that the Justice Department-backed breakup of the software giant has given the software giant a new pro-Republican perspective, which may leave Gore and his party out in the cold. After years of being politically agnostic, Microsoft has embraced Bush as an antidote to a litigious administration. In May, Microsoft lobbyists sat on the host committee for a $1,000-a-head Bush fundraiser, and Gates has begun to have cozy meetings with Republican congressional leaders.

Until recently, Microsoft has been an equal-opportunity donor in this election cycle, sending $529,000 to Democrats and $607,000 to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But ground-floor sentiments foretold the company's anti-Gore tilt. Individual Microsoft employees gave him $20,000 from Jan. 1, 1999, to Jan. 1, 2000, while Bush received $35,000, a 75 percent difference. Even former Sen. Bill Bradley, whom Gore trounced in the primaries, bested the vice president with $30,050 in employee contributions. And all this was before the breakup ruling.

Another poll predicts a tight race
Unlike Microsoft, the public hasn't made up its mind between Bush and Gore, according to a Bloomberg poll. The survey, conducted from May 25 to June 4, shows Bush leading Gore 44 percent to 40 percent, a difference within the margin of error. The Green Party's Ralph Nader scored 4 percent, and the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan received 3 percent. While the statistical tie is relatively good news for Gore given his recent poll troubles, political scientist Mark Rozell says it's not good enough. "Historically, the voters have rewarded the incumbent party in the White House when the economy is going strong," he said. "It is somewhat surprising that Gore should be running [about] even with Bush. He should be doing better."

Killing Bush with kindness
For now, Gore has his happy face on. The Associated Press reports that the vice president is on a "progress and prosperity" tour to highlight the part he has played in the strong economy. "If we play our cards right as a nation we can keep this prosperity going and at the same time bring everybody into it so that nobody is left behind," Gore told a California crowd. "The potential that we have in this new era is just absolutely fantastic but we've got to make the right choices." Gore's determination to accentuate the positive marks a new era in his campaign as well. In an interview with the Washington Post, the vice president stayed away from Bush-bashing, and emphasized his role as guardian of the Clinton-era economic expansion. "I think it's time to take the next logical step to strengthen America's economy and ensure that fiscal discipline continues to promote progress and prosperity," Gore said. He also outlined his extensive plan to safeguard Medicare, but said his speeches on the subject would not include anti-Bush attacks. "I'm going to be talking about my proposals," Gore said.

George W. Bush: The lost chapters
The Texas governor has spoken sparingly about his life between 1968 and 1974. The anti-Bush Web site is now running a daily cyberserial to help fill in the details. Calling the fictional series "Fear and Loathing in East Texas," the site promises to illuminate the years "from W's Yale graduation up to his re-surfacing at Hunter S. Thompson's Super Bowl party." In today's episode, a young Bush turns down a cross-country Volkswagen voyage with a friend to uphold his family name. "Look man, my Dad's running for Senate right now, and my grandfather was a famous senator, and his father was a powerful admiral, and it goes on like that all the way back to the pilgrims, you know?" the Bush character explains to his hippie friend. "All eyes are on us, and now there's a war on ... Aw, just forget it, it's a ruling class thing -- you wouldn't understand."

Poll positions
Presidential race:

  • Bush 42 to Gore 41 (Zogby May 29-31).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 39 (CBS News/New York Times May 10-13).
  • Bush 49 to Gore 44 (ABC News/Washington Post May 7-10).
  • Bush 51 to Gore 43 (Los Angeles Times May 4-7).
  • Bush 46 to Gore 45 (Pew Center May 2-6).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 42 ( May 1-3).

    Vice presidential preferences (previous):
    Preferences for Republican vice presidential candidate among Republican voters (NBC/Wall Street Journal April 29-May 1):

  • Colin Powell, 39 percent
  • Elizabeth Dole, 19 percent
  • John McCain, 18 percent
  • Christine Todd Whitman, 5 percent
  • Fred Thompson, 6 percent
  • John Kaisch, 4 percent
  • Tom Ridge, 3 percent
  • Other, 1 percent
  • Not sure, 5 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

    On the trail
    Buchanan: Washington.
    Bush: Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
    Gore: California.
    Nader: To be announced.

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  • Alicia Montgomery

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

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