Dear Philip Heymann:
The case for pursuing the indictment of Vice President Al Gore for alleged campaign fund-raising violations was succinctly stated by President Abraham Lincoln. He lectured:
Let reverence for the law be breathed by every American …; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.
The pertinent statutes allegedly violated by Gore, either solo or in joint partnership with President William Jefferson Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, speak with the clarity of primary colors, not the blur of chiaroscuro. One prohibits the solicitation of political contributions from the White House or other federal property, period. No commas, colons, or semicolons. Another makes criminal direct or indirect promises–by the president, vice president, or their proxies–of “special consideration” to people seeking a government benefit as reward for a contribution to a party or a candidate.
Vice President Gore has confessed to making scores of fund-raising appeals to plutocrats from his White House office on behalf of the DNC, an apparent flagrant violation of the anti-solicitation law. The contribution exhortations were stupendously successful, like a highwayman’s request that his prey yield their cash and valuables. Further, it appears that Gore tacitly promised the tycoons “special [White House] consideration” on their business or other concerns. The congressional testimony of Roger Tamraz is emblematic. He confessed to making colossal contributions to the DNC in the expectation of receiving “special consideration” for an oil-pipeline plan, and he was not disappointed.
During Mr. Clinton’s maiden term, 938 White House overnight guests selected from the rich and super-rich (not the likes of Oliver Twist or Mr. Micawber) contributed, in aggregate, more than $10 million to the DNC. During 1995 and 1996, White House coffees yielded equally handsome dividends, i.e., $27 million to the DNC from 350 fat cats. The Clinton-Gore-DNC fund-raising scheme reeked of “extortion lite” sustained by a notorious pattern of special White House consideration.
A Democratic fund-raiser unbosomed to the Los Angeles Times: “I can’t count the number of times I heard, ‘Tell them they can come to a coffee with the President for $50,000.’ It was routine. In fact, when [staffers] said, ‘This is all I can raise,’ they were told, ‘Keep selling the coffees.’ ” A White House video of a Dec. 15, 1995, coffee features an unidentified invitee informing DNC Chairman Donald Fowler, “I have five checks for you,” and the latter responding, “As soon as this thing is over, I’ll call you.”
Detractors of an independent counsel to investigate Gore for promoting a Gilded Age plutocracy insist that special White House consideration is innocuous, at least if public policy is not changed as a result. Nonsense! The contributors exploit the appearance of inside information and power to extract huge sums from the politically uninitiated both domestically and abroad. The favoritism also erodes public confidence in the fairness of the political system and exposes the honest businessman to extortion to avoid a competitive disadvantage.
Gore defenders errantly assert that the anti-solicitation law brims with ambiguity, foolishly handcuffs legitimate fund raising, and punishes conduct that is not inherently immoral. Nonsense on stilts! The law is as clear as the obligation to file an income-tax return, and the vice president is a fund-raising veteran with instant access to pricey legal advice, not a political ingénue. The $4 billion raised by candidates and political parties in 1996–miles within the law–discredits the palsied claim that Gore was “victimized” by a hopelessly impractical prohibition. And what could be more sacrilegious to the nation’s “political religion” than the vice president boasting about his fund-raising maneuvers and sneering at contrition? Like Caesar’s wife, Gore should be above suspicion, not a second edition of Tammany Hall’s Boss Tweed.
If the rule of law means anything, it means that campaign-finance reform must come through the legislative process, not by winking at Vice President Gore’s suspected crimes.