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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore Admits to 1996 Fund-Raising Errors

March 06, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CRANSTON, R.I. — Al Gore charged Sunday that Republican George W. Bush's primary campaign is now tainted by campaign finance questions even as he admitted again that he made fund-raising mistakes himself that contributed to the Democratic Party's scandal in 1996.

"I made a mistake, and I think the importance of making mistakes is what you learn from them," Gore said. "What I learned from it was the need for campaign finance reform. I previously supported it, [and] I support it even more strongly today."

Gore promised to make the issue a priority for his campaign and--signaling a possible general election strategy against Bush--he sharply criticized the Texas governor for not supporting a plan to reform campaign finance laws.

Just two days before the biggest day of voting in the campaign to date, Gore also aligned himself with Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican Sen. John McCain on the need to limit the outside contributions that fuel some of the angriest political advertising.

"If Gov. Bush defeats Sen. McCain in some of these contests on Tuesday, this will raise serious questions about whether he did so fair and square," Gore said, referring to advertisements challenging McCain's opposition to alternative energy programs being advanced by a Bush supporter.

Gore pointed out, in a speech at a seniors center here, that he, Bradley and McCain have endorsed proposals for campaign finance reform and that Bush has not.

"And now we see the one candidate who has not called for a ban on soft money using soft money in this contest that will take place on Tuesday," he said. "We knew that Gov. Bush was in the hip pocket of the special interests. Now we find what a deep pocket that is--$2.5 million of soft money flooding into the contest."

Gore referred to a controversial ad campaign launched against McCain's environmental record by Texan Sam Wyly, a Bush backer. Bush, however, has denied any role in coordinating that attack ad.

Gore said that without limits on such spending, "special interests" would exert influence over policies regarding drug prices and gun control, among others.

The vice president's comments could serve to inoculate him against the potential political damage of the 1996 fund-raising abuses.

Gore has generally avoided discussion of campaign finance reform since he was embarrassed by his role in the 1996 fund-raising scandal at a Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights. Gore associate Maria Hsia was convicted last week in Washington of causing false donor lists to be filed with federal election officials.

Bradley has warned Democratic voters that Republicans will attack Gore for his role in the episode if he is the party's nominee. Asked Sunday about Republican efforts to use the scandal against him in advertisements, Gore said, "I strongly support campaign finance reform."

The vice president said both parties had pressed the fund-raising limits in 1996, and added, "I made a mistake."

Gore has admitted his mistakes in recent years and acknowledged his own lapses on the campaign trail.

The vice president first addressed the topic Sunday during a conversation with reporters aboard Air Force II. He returned to the topic in the speech to elderly residents of this blue-collar community, one of only two campaign events Sunday.

In the evening, Gore planned to make his second campaign appearance with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the 92nd Street Y, long a gathering place for the New York Jewish community.

The vice president acknowledged to reporters that he had intentionally shifted the focus of his campaign appearances in recent weeks from Bradley to the Republicans. He said the change reflected fewer attacks on him from Bradley.

"I wanted to reciprocate," he said.

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