Gore in the Balance

By Fineman, Howard; Isikoff, Michael | Newsweek, October 13, 1997 | Go to article overview

Gore in the Balance


Fineman, Howard, Isikoff, Michael, Newsweek


Inside the vice president's well-oiled cash machine

THE METHODIST BUILDING, GRAY and nondescript, is one of those Capitol Hill edifices no one notices. Liberal interest groups fill most of it, but there are apartments as well. For many years, the Gores of Tennessee have rented there--a place to stay when they couldn't make it home to their posh flat at the old Fairfax. Albert Sr. used it when he was in Congress. So did his son, especially in the late '80s.

In those years, in those Spartan rooms, Albert Gore Jr. indulged his twin obsessions: saving the planet and raising cash. It was where he wrote his environmental credo, "Earth in the Balance." It was also a legal safe house from which he made fundraising calls. By law and custom, Gore knew, you didn't dial for dollars from your Senate office. Eager to repay a debt from his 1988 presidential campaign, and to raise money for his 1990 Senate race, Gore instead "spent a lot of time over in the Methodist Building" recalls a former top aide.

Last week history caught up with Al Gore at the Methodist Building. Suddenly he had a new use for the apartment: as temporary space for lawyers he'd hired to deal with an inquiry into fund-raising calls he made from the White House as vice president. Attorney General Janet Reno dismissed charges that President Clinton had sold White House access. But she requested at least 60 more days to decide whether to ask for an independent counsel to probe Gore's calls. "I remain confident that everything I did was legal and proper," the vice president said.

He may be right, but it may not stop the march to a prosecutor. The relevant law--the Pendleton Act of 1883--bars solicitation of donations on federal property. Though prosecutors have never applied it to phone calls, Reno may ultimately have an independent counsel make that decision--and such prosecutors can expand their mandates at will. Meanwhile, even some of Gore's friends wonder how such a cautious man could have made at least 46 cash cans from the West Wing. "Why didn't he go make the cans from the Methodist Building?" lamented one.

Well, he was busy. As a good soldier, he wanted to impress the boss--Clinton--with his fund-raising prowess. But there's another, more important reason for Gore's current predicament. Unlike Clinton, who doesn't like to directly ask for cash, Gore is one of the most earnestly systematic fund raisers of his generation. He may have simply become too comfortable in the world of political money that had nurtured him.

Gore has long been eager to raise bucks from new sources and with on-the-edge methods. He was the First modem presidential candidate to run after a "tryout" before a formal assembly of fat cats. He was one of the first presidential contenders to borrow campaign funds from a wide array of banks. And he was one of the first senators to tap the emerging market of Asian-American donors in California.

Gore's serious obsession with money dates to 1987. Not yet 40, he'd toyed with the idea of running for president--and rejected it. Then he got a call from a group named Impac, a herd of fat cats that had been enticed into politics by Walter Mondale in 1984. Impac comprised 40 donors who wanted, in 1988, to pick their "own" candidate. They rented a room at a D.C. hotel and interviewed candidates. Gore gave a stellar performance. Within a couple of months, he was in the race--backed by a promise that 16 Impac members would raise $250,000 each. …

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