Gore campaign's close call

At the last minute, a Dallas fundraiser is moved from a restaurant whose owner faces an SEC complaint.



Jake Tapper
September 11, 2000 12:00PM (UTC)

In a close race, little mistakes can add up quickly, the losing candidate blaming the final result on a slow death by a thousand cuts. On Saturday, the Gore campaign avoided just such a little wound -- barely.

As of Saturday, Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., was scheduled to attend a fundraiser Monday in Dallas at the posh restaurant Voltaire.

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The problem: Voltaire's owner, former radio mogul Scott Ginsburg, faces a civil complaint filed in September 1999 by the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that Ginsburg, his brother Mark and his father, Jordan, violated federal insider trading laws.

Lieberman's moral rectitude has been said to serve as an asset for his running mate, Vice President Al Gore, as Gore attempts to get away from the campaign finance scandals (not to mention that other one) of his past. Lieberman's attendance at a restaurant owned by a man facing accusations of financial malfeasance would have threatened to tarnish his armor a tad.

So they moved it before anybody noticed. "We switched [the location] because it's a current" SEC case, said a senior staff member of the Lieberman campaign Sunday night. The staffer said the switch happened on Saturday, the moment the campaign heard about the SEC complaint against Ginsburg.

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"I assume that [Ginsburg] was notified that we were switching the location," the staffer said.

Indeed he was. But Ginsburg, reached Sunday night, said he was told the fundraiser had been moved from his restaurant for other reasons; specifically that the guest list had grown and because a more convenient space was desired.

"It's so successful they needed to run it into a new location," Ginsburg said. "It got way too big, and it was out of the way." Ginsburg said his restaurant is far enough away from Love Field -- the airport where Lieberman's plane will land Monday -- that it would have presented a logistical nightmare.

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But according to the Lieberman staffer, the only nightmare the Gore campaign worried about was one in which Lieberman was at a fundraiser with ties to someone being investigated for insider trading. According to a Dallas Morning News story from the time the suit was filed, the SEC wants the Ginsburgs to return $1.8 million in profits from two different stock transactions from 1996 and 1997. Additionally, the federal judge hearing the case -- in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Fla., where the other two Ginsburgs reside -- could decide to fine the trio three times as much, or $5.4 million.

Pooh-poohing the SEC complaint as a mere civil suit, Ginsburg said that he'd been told by a staffer at the Democratic National Committee that the change in location -- it will now be at the Fairmont Hotel -- was for logistical reasons. The staffer, Michael Gilbert, referred Salon to a DNC spokeswoman who did not return calls for comment.

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This time, the Democrats narrowly avoided what could have been a minor scrape, or worse.


Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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