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Spending Time on Campaign Funds Pays Off


CHICAGO — The Democratic National Convention had yet to start when we sneaked into a meeting where we knew we weren't welcome. It was boot camp for the Democrats' paid campaign operatives. We took a seat in the hotel banquet room and tried to look like we belonged.

A young woman on a rostrum described what she called "the quick and dirty" about funding, polling and legal issues. She used jargon like "persuadable targets" (voters) and talked about the importance of "moving Air Force One around" (making sure that President Clinton stages events in crucial states).

But the real lesson Sunday morning was how to cleverly skirt the rules on campaign spending. There are strict limits on how much federal money political parties can spend to elect presidential candidates, the young woman told us. But once you hit the limit, she said, it's kosher to divert money to so-called get-out-the-vote efforts, which also benefit Clinton.

We were starting to get it. These people juggle money around like deranged mutual fund managers. And it's perfectly legal.


Former Sen. Birch Bayh will be in the audience when his son, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh, gives the convention keynote speech Tuesday night. We hope the younger Bayh fares better than the elder, who made his first convention appearance to introduce the 1968 keynote speaker, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, and badly mispronounced his name.


The Republican National Convention had better fireworks, but the Democrats have more soul--at least when it comes to music. The other night, Aretha Franklin, a vision in a spangled white dress, put on a free concert under a glistening half-moon in Grant Park--the very place where demonstrators and police clashed so infamously 28 years ago.

"Come on and sing it with me!" she told us as she broke into "Chain of Fools." We had no choice but to obey.

We were struck by the friendly, racially mixed crowd. People were packed into the steamy park, jostling for a glimpse of the Queen of Soul. The only time we'd felt something approaching that mood in Los Angeles was at a Dodgers game.

Over in the porta-potty line, we ran into Almetta Armstrong and Lavonia Allison, two Democrats from North Carolina. The retirees--formerly an elementary school principal and a college administrator--wanted to make sure we noticed how different the scene was from the Republican event in San Diego.

"They had an illusion of inclusion," Armstrong said.


But there's plenty of dissent at this convention, even though it's mostly hidden beneath Clinton-Gore idolatry. To get another view, we tracked down novelist Walter Mosley, whose Easy Rawlins mysteries tell as much about African American life in South Los Angeles as they do about crime and detective work.

The post-World War II South L.A. inhabited by Rawlins, Mosley's private eye, was part of an industrial heartland. Rawlins' world is one of black men at work, though without power. But when the factories closed, they were not only powerless but broke, and that has haunted Mosley.

Mosley was in Chicago to take part in a panel discussion of the issues facing black Americans--jobs, political power, racism, poverty--that the panelists feared would be ignored during the official proceedings.

The other members of the panel--which included such expert sound-biters as critic Stanley Crouch and Harvard University scholar Cornel West--fired one-liners as if they were on "Larry King Live." Mosley spoke slowly, sometimes hesitatingly, like a man more accustomed to the solitary writer's life.

"Fiction can tell you the truth, but it can't teach," he said, explaining that he does not seek to offer solutions to the world's problems in his writing. But he's looking for answers in his life.

"The problem is, we are making all the money for white people," he said. That's why he recently signed a book contract with a black publisher. "I don't know if that will save us, but without doing this, we will not be saved."


Funniest T-shirt (so far): "Dope/Hemp '96."


Unfunniest stunt: A heavyset man wearing a rubber Clinton mask appeared at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel, where the president will be staying when he arrives here Wednesday. The man wore a white lab coat and gloves smeared with a red substance that was supposed to look like blood.

"This is your president: Abortion Man," announced the Clinton wannabe's spokesman, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition. "Just like Buttman [a guy in a cigarette costume] followed Mr. Dole, we're launching a campaign to follow Clinton."

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