Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hoping for Scandal, Wheat Camp Sprang `Boatgate' Leak

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hoping for Scandal, Wheat Camp Sprang `Boatgate' Leak

Article excerpt

Last Friday, a Jefferson City lawyer named Thomas Vaughn quietly slipped into the Cole County courthouse to pay overdue personal property taxes owed by John and Janet Ashcroft. The amount for back taxes and penalties: $920.

The payment was made the day after a reporter asked Ashcroft's U.S. Senate campaign staff where the former governor paid his personal property taxes on the family boat.

How the boat-tax question first emerged and how the Ashcroft campaign responded is a reflection of campaigning in the 1990s. This is an era when negative political issues pop up like gremlins in last-minute attempts to sway voter opinions.

Excitement In The Wheat Camp

Campaign workers for Democrat Alan D. Wheat, who is running against Ashcroft, thought they had found just such an issue when they examined state Revenue Department records on Ashcroft's boats. The documents they found indicated that the Ashcrofts had paid only $4,296 in 1992 to buy a boat advertised for a price of about $18,000.

The issue seemed even better to them, because the Ashcrofts had bought the boat from the Bass Pro Shop in Springfield. Bass Pro benefited from more than $1 million in state economic development block grants while Ashcroft was governor. And, Bass Pro and its owner, John Morris, had contributed $12,000 to Ashcroft's political campaigns since 1988.

The story appeared even richer to the Wheat camp because a check of records in counties all over Missouri found that the Ashcrofts had never declared the boat for personal property tax purposes.

Dreaming of an issue they called "Boatgate," sources close to Wheat's campaign leaked the "story" to the Post-Dispatch.

With just over three weeks remaining until the Nov. 8 general election, Ashcroft's well-funded campaign for the Senate seemed to be rolling along like a dreadnought. And when a newspaper's reporter faxed copies of the Revenue Department documents along with written questions to Ashcroft's campaign headquarters, press aide Doreen Torgerson considered them torpedoes.

She stalled for time, first saying the faxed documents were illegible and then saying the answers to the question would not be available until Monday. …

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