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Vice President Al Gore, running for the Democratic presidential
nomination to succeed Bill Clinton, has said he would not accept any
campaign donations from tobacco companies.

True to its word, his campaign has indeed returned a contribution
made by tobacco magnate Bennett LeBow because “we do not accept
contributions from tobacco (political action committees), nor do we
accept them from tobacco corporate entities,” said former Gore campaign
spokesman Roger Salazar.

That should have been the end of it. But remember we’re talking
about Gore — like his boss a consummate politician who is, like other
politicians, rarely what he appears to be.

Remember too that Gore, specifically, was the man who denied knowing
he was involved in fundraising while at a Buddhist temple, and who also
said there was “no controlling legal authority” preventing him from
making fundraising calls from his White House office.

Having said that, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that
indeed he has accepted a $2,000 donation from LeBow, albeit in a
form not easily recognizable as a so-called “campaign contribution.”

But that’s exactly what it was. Ever hear of the “Vice President’s
Residence Foundation?” Me, either.

Developed by former VP Dan Quayle, the foundation has become “a tool”
used by Gore to “cultivate relationships with some generous donors, many
of whom are now supporting his bid for the presidency,” according to a
Washington Times story last Wednesday.

And it was to this foundation, rather than to his campaign,
that Mr. LeBow made his contribution.

Oh.

He was joined by a number of other shady campaign donors — people
who have themselves either been charged with or indicted for making
illegal contributions to past Clinton/Gore campaigns.

“The list of donors to the fund includes Mark Jimenez, whom the
Justice Department is trying to extradite from the Philippines where he
fled last year after he was indicted on 17 counts of making illegal
campaign contributions,” the Times reported. “Also on the list is
Howard Glicken, who was fined $80,000 and sentenced to community service
for illegally raising foreign campaign contributions. Franklin Haney, a
$10,000 donor, was indicted on 42 counts of making illegal
contributions, but was acquitted last year after his attorney argued
that ‘nobody committed a crime because nobody thought they were doing
anything wrong.’ Former Clinton-Gore fund-raiser Peter Knight headed the
foundation’s fund-raising efforts in 1997 while Mr. Gore was defending
fund-raising telephone calls made at the White House.”

But, of course, Gore is innocent according to his paid
campaign staffers — none of whom would say he was guilty unless they
were ready to look for another job.

Of the LeBow/tobacco contribution, Gore spokesman Laura Quinn said,
“He didn’t accept it. He doesn’t solicit money for the foundation. He
doesn’t manage money for the foundation. These are foundation decisions
apart from the vice president.”

Quinn says Gore “doesn’t solicit money for the foundation.” That
begs the question: Does he discourage it?

Quinn says Gore “doesn’t manage money for the foundation.” That begs
the question: Does he monitor it?

Quinn says, “these are foundation decisions apart from the vice
president.” That begs the question: Why wouldn’t Gore, after all of the
questionable fundraising arising from the 1996 campaign, be vigilant
beyond reason to make sure it didn’t happen again?

Gore’s habitual fundraising hypocrisy is a symptom of a much larger
political problem. In short, there’s too much money in politics, and it
is buying an unwarranted amount of influence. There is really no denying
that.

But if Americans continue to pretend that money isn’t corrupting our
political system, then I suppose it’s ludicrous to keep highlighting the
macabre and hypocritical process of campaign financing.

The Center for Public Integrity also believes the influence of money
in the political process remains “a cause for concern” because it “gives
a small group of people access to the halls of power,” said Peter
Eisner, a director at the nonpartisan watchdog group.

Of course, they are right. Gore’s definitely being a hypocrite –
his spokesman’s excuses notwithstanding — but isn’t that because the
system is set up to guarantee hypocrisy? If rich people or wealthy
corporations don’t make “direct contributions” to a campaign, then they
make them through various PACs, “funds,” and foundations. What’s the
difference?

This happens, by the way, on both sides of the political aisle.

I honestly don’t know what the answer to this problem is, but I can
assure you there is no one easy answer.

But if the American system of government is to survive, the very
least the electorate should expect is that the huge sums of money being
raised by candidates are legal, devoid of hypocrisy, and transparent.
When it’s not, the electorate should expect the guilty parties to be
punished, as was not the case with Clinton/Gore.

For that to work, however, we have to have moral people in all
branches of government.

I told you there were no easy answers.

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