Finally something comes along to rain on Al Gore's post-convention parade. The New York Times reports that a document has surfaced linking the vice president to a shady donation solicited in 1995. At that time, Texas attorney Walter Umphrey had been on a list of potential cash cows who were to receive a call from Gore. After two weeks had passed without the vice president dialing Umphrey's number, then Democratic National Committee chairman Donald Fowler completed the connection. An aide wrote the following in a memo for Fowler in preparation for the Umphrey call: "Sorry you missed the vice president," and then, "I know" you "will give $100K when the president vetoes tort reform, but we really need it now. Please send ASAP if possible." The president later vetoed the tort reform bill, and Umphrey and his firm have donated more than $700,000 to the Democrats since that time.
The Justice Department's campaign finance task force leader, Robert Conrad, has opened an investigation into the matter. As for the Gore campaign, it smells a rat on this one. "The Republicans and others have had this for more than 1,000 days and no one found it interesting until 1,000 hours before the election," said Gore spokesman Jim Kennedy. "That's curious, isn't it?"
Return to sender
In another curious turn of events, a senior aide to the vice president's campaign received an unsolicited gift from Austin, Texas. According to Reuters, former Rep. Tom Downey received a package that contained what appeared to be documents from George W. Bush's campaign, outlining his debate strategy. The package also contained a videotape of the Texas governor rehearsing for the contests. Downey's attorney, Marc Miller, said that Downey dropped the material like a hot rock. "The package arrived by U.S. Mail, two-day delivery, postmarked Austin, Texas. Mr. Downey watched a few seconds, determined it was associated with Bush debate preparation and called me," Miller said. "The material is now with the FBI."
The Bush campaign was caught off guard by the incident. "We have no idea what the Gore campaign has, we have no idea how anything got there, or what it is," said Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes, who didn't speculate on the source of leak. "We presume that they would want us to review the materials to determine whether they are or are not legitimate." If the package turns out to be the real thing, the Bush camp may have a highly placed double agent in its midst. According to Hughes, only those in Bush's inner circle had access to his debate tapes.
Staged Hollywood bash
A different type of video prompted both campaigns to send their morality cops to Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Lynne Cheney, wife of Republican running mate Dick Cheney, joined the designated Democratic handwringer, veep hopeful Joseph Lieberman, in a public display of outrage over violent entertainment. The current round of breast beating comes in the wake of a Federal Trade Commission report that accuses the entertainment industry of selling dirty CDs, movies and video games to children. While Cheney singled out Eminem, rap music's bjte noire of the moment, she also blasted the Democrats for their reliance on Hollywood dollars. She scolded Gore and Lieberman for attending a fundraiser sponsored by Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein. His studio made the movie "Kids," which depicts aimless Manhattan teens screwing around, using dope and being really nasty. (In the flick, all the misbehaving brats end up suffering for their sins.)
Giving Miramax a big thumbs down
Members of the Bush camp later helped Cheney beat the anti-Miramax drum, the Washington Post reports. "The centerpiece of the Gore-Lieberman remarks on the entertainment industry is that Hollywood may need to be regulated," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said at the congressional hearings. "Then one of the co-hosts of tomorrow's event [Weinstein] is the same person who perfected the art of selling to children things that shouldn't be seen by children." In addition to the Oscar-winning "Shakespeare in Love," Miramax has made teen magnet movies such as orphanage-and-orchard morality play "The Cider House Rules," the Meryl Streep vehicle "Music of the Heart" and the screen adaptation of Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park."
Down and dirty in New York
For those who prefer a real brawl to the ones scripted in Hollywood, Rep. Rick Lazio and Hillary Rodham Clinton had their first New York Senate race debate Wednesday evening. The New York Daily News reports that the candidates pulled no punches, battling each other on issues and character. Moderator Tim Russert demonstrated why he's on Bush's debate-moderator wish list by prodding Clinton about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When asked whether she should apologize for misleading people by blaming the "vast right-wing conspiracy" in the early days of Monicagate, the first lady gave an uncharacteristically quiet reply. "Obviously, I didn't mislead anyone. I didn't know the truth," she said softly. "That was a very painful time for me, for my family, for our country. It's something that I regret deeply that anyone had to go through." But Lazio wasn't buying it: "Blaming others ... has become a pattern for my opponent," he said.
That's how most of the evening went, and Lazio finished the debate charging just as hard as when he began. Crossing the stage, he challenged Clinton to sign a pledge not to use soft money for the rest of the campaign. He even brought her a pen. "I admire that," the first lady said of Lazio's gesture. "That was a wonderful performance." The Republican shot back, "I'm not asking you to admire it. I want your signature." Clinton offered a handshake instead.
MasterCard charge declined
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader has a lifetime of experience railing against soft money and other demons. He may not win the election, but his campaign reports that Nader did win a battle with MasterCard. The credit card giant lost in its first attempt to stop the consumer activist from running an ad patterned on its "Priceless" commercials. A federal District Court in New York refused to order Nader to drop the spot, pending the outcome of the MasterCard suit.
On the trail
Pat Buchanan: Washington.
Gore: New Hampshire and New York.
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