Al Gore

Al Gore

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Nov. 4 1997 3:30 AM

Al Gore

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       I have good news. You have been awarded a 14-karat gold medal for unprecedented mastery of the tertiary prong of the law-school maxim inculcated in first-year novitiates: "If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If both the facts and the law are against you, confuse the issue."
       Promising special government consideration in exchange for political contributions flagrantly affronts the plain language of Section 600 of the criminal code. It stipulates, "Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises ... special consideration in obtaining any [government] benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity ... shall be fined ... or imprisoned not more than one year, or both." Thus, if Roger Tamraz was promised special Oval Office consideration for his foreign oil-pipeline venture in exchange for his $300,000 contribution to the Democratic National Committee, then the promisor is guilty of a crime, whether it was Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, former DNC Chairman Donald Fowler, or other Democratic Party bigwigs.
       Section 600 criminality seems to reach arch influence-peddler Peter Knight, a longtime associate of Vice President Gore. According to published reports, Knight vowed, in addressing executives of Molten Metal Technology Inc. who had pledged to raise $50,000, "Your participation in this [fund-raising] program will give you a special place of significance with the vice president and put you first in line." Gore visited Molten's headquarters in 1995, and the company's research contract with the Department of Energy concurrently climbed from $1.2 million in 1994 to $33 million in 1996. Mr. Knight certainly warrants further investigation.
       Your invocation of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to justify ignoring the plain language of Section 600 is like quoting Boss Tweed on the incorruptibility of Tammany Hall. It's worthy of arpeggios of laughter, but not more. I do not deny that there is honor among thieves.
       I agree that unilateral decisions by officeholders to provide special government access, influenced by campaign contributions, are legal. Thus, if I contributed $1 million to the DNC in the hope of gaining a special White House hearing to urge open trade relations with China, and that hope was fulfilled by President Clinton as a mark of political gratitude, no criminality obtains. But if a promise was made that the hope would be answered, then Section 600 has been transgressed. In other words, the sale of political promises for campaign contributions is illegal, but a unilateral gesture of gratitude is not. Similarly, buying a citizen's vote is illegal, but the simple favoring of political supporters in granting government access is not.
       Your maneuvering with the "everybody does it" defense belongs in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. On the one hand, you argue that promises of special consideration must be legal because "otherwise a very high proportion of Congress, as well as all our presidents, would have been jailed a long time ago." But you immediately renounce the defense without even a truncated intermezzo by insisting that "the solicitation of contributions from corporations and unions, and in forbidden amounts from individuals, on the patently phony grounds that the contributions weren't intended for the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns" was illegal although the practice was commonplace in both parties. You seem to be warring with yourself, and giving legal argument a bad name.
       Finally, your sneering at the anti-solicitation prohibition in Section 607 is dumbfounding. The broad evil addressed is the commandeering of taxpayer property solely to advance a partisan political campaign; it is not confined to the fleecing of government employees by their political superiors. Your cramped interpretation would authorize President Clinton to host daily White House fund-raising feasts for nonemployees. Ditto for Vice President Al Gore and Cabinet members in hosting sumptuous fund-raising coffees, lunches, and dinners in their regal offices. If the law supposed that such a political scandal would be legal, then "the law is a ass, an idiot," to quote from the learned Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist.

Bruce Fein served as associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration. He is a syndicated columnist at the Washington Times, and practices international and constitutional law. Philip Heymann served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. He is a professor at Harvard Law School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government.