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Democrats Claim Fund Drive Delays Bork Vote : GOP Phone Campaign Asks Contributions to Continue Confirmation Struggle

October 16, 1987|DAVID LAUTER and JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats, angry over a scheduling deadlock on the long-awaited vote on Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert H. Bork, charged Thursday that a single Republican senator is holding up the ballot to allow more time for a conservative group to reap benefits from a related fund-raising effort.

The senator, Gordon J. Humphrey of New Hampshire, is featured along with President Reagan in a telephone campaign conducted by the National Conservative Political Action Committee. The calls, dialed automatically to phones in targeted telephone exchanges in 15 states, include messages from the two appealing for support and soliciting "a contribution to win this important battle."

The disclosure of the phone drive, which began Tuesday, could complicate the Administration's declared strategy of using the Bork Senate debate to decry the aggressive opposition campaign that helped doom Bork's confirmation bid to likely defeat.

Byrd Speech

Opponents now are expected to trumpet the fund-raising as evidence that his supporters are the more guilty of partisan political tactics in the Bork nomination.

"I wonder if the delay has anything to do with this fund-raising effort," Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said in a Senate speech. "How much money do they have to raise to get a Tuesday vote (in the Senate)? How much money do they have to raise to get a Wednesday vote? How much money do they have to raise to get a Thursday vote?"

White House officials had no comment on the NCPAC campaign, other than to say they had no active involvement in it. Reagan's statements in the telephone message were excerpts from his radio speech supporting Bork last Saturday, said Tom Griscom, White House director of communications.

As Democrats and Republicans wrestled over the timetable for the Senate vote, Reagan maintained his intense attack on the anti-Bork forces, calling again for the public to protest the scuttling of his nominee.

"When have we ever seen an instance in which the confirmation of a justice to the Supreme Court has resulted in private interest groups raising money and putting out television ads and campaigns as if they were running an election and campaigns based on distortion?" Reagan asked in a speech at a fund-raising dinner for Republican gubernatorial candidates.

GOP Sought Delay

His remarks, including a denunciation of "high-pressure politics," closely followed his pro-Bork speech Wednesday before the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

In the Senate, some Republicans have been pressing to put off a vote until late next week, insisting that they deserve the opportunity to properly vent their views about Bork's treatment.

However, Byrd insisted there is no valid reason to prolong what appears to be a dead issue, with 54 senators already having announced their opposition to the nominee.

Perhaps, Byrd charged, NCPAC is trying to "bilk people out of their hard-earned money" and "mislead the American people into thinking their contributions will turn this vote around."

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas also distanced himself from the NCPAC campaign, referring to it as one of several examples of "bogyman fund-raising" by both sides in the Bork debate and adding that "this whole thing has gotten out of hand."

"It comes too late--we're not going to change any votes," Dole said.

A spokesman for Humphrey, NCPAC's honorary co-chairman, denied that the senator was delaying Senate action for the fund appeal. But press secretary Bill Anthony conceded that Humphrey "wants to keep the debate (on Bork) open as long as possible" and has refused to agree to any time limit.

Under Senate rules, a vote deadline can be set only by unanimous agreement of all 100 senators or by a separate, but time-consuming, parliamentary procedure known as cloture. The debate probably will now begin on Monday.

2.1 Million Calls

An NCPAC official, Sandy Scholte, said the phone campaign is slated to last a week and involve 2.1 million calls. She said that she did not know how much money had been raised through the effort, which will benefit the organization's general operating fund. "The most important thing is making the calls before the vote comes up," she said. In his speech, Reagan voiced charges similar to those contained in the minority section of a report released Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which voted 9 to 5 last week to recommend Bork's rejection.

Reagan said that "debate" is a "polite word for what has been going on," adding: "I do not believe that nominees to the Supreme Court should have to pass 'litmus tests' administered by single-interest lobbies. Such tactics are better suited for campaigns and elections than for Supreme Court nominations."

The committee's minority said in its report that "despite sloganeering and misrepresentations to the contrary, Judge Bork is well within the judicial mainstream."

The majority section of the 95-page report outlines criticisms of Bork's views on privacy, civil rights and the constitutional guarantees of equal protection of the law and free speech.

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