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Gore Mines California for Money

Politics: Fund-raisers in Hollywood, Silicon Valley bring vice president to state where he enjoys big lead in polls. In L.A., he urges more privacy for medical records.


Vice President Al Gore, drawn to California by money rather than political imperative, touted the need for safeguards to protect the medical records of consumers Tuesday in a speech bracketed by top-dollar political fund-raising events.

Extending his self-characterization as a battler for everyday people against powerful interests, Gore visited a San Fernando Valley center for adults with developmental disabilities to argue for better protection of private medical records.

"People are being victimized by powerful institutions," Gore told listeners at the New Horizons Community Center in North Hills. "And it's just plain wrong. It puts profits before people."

As far as fund-raising went, however, Gore was only too happy to reap profits. At a Hollywood fund-raiser Monday night, he raised $4.2 million for the Democratic National Committee. The gathering at the Beverly Hills home of investor Ron Burkle was described by co-host Rob Reiner as the biggest DNC fund-raiser ever held in Los Angeles.

The event came only days after renewed criticism by Gore and his running mate, Joseph I. Lieberman, about Hollywood depictions of violence. The Connecticut senator took pains Monday night to reassure the crowd.

"It's true, from time to time we have been, and will be, critics, or noodges," Lieberman said. "But I promise you this: We will never put the government in the position of telling you by law--through law--what to make.

"We will noodge you," he added. "But we will never become censors."

Gore said he had been heartened by those in the industry who agreed with his and Lieberman's criticisms about the marketing of inappropriate films to children. "Joe and I believe in this very deeply," Gore said. "And if I'm entrusted with the presidency, we're going to fight to change that. And I know a lot of you will be standing with us."

On Tuesday night, Gore attended a second fund-raiser, in the high-end Silicon Valley suburb of Atherton. Gore campaign aides did not give an estimate of the take from that event.

On his arrival in the Silicon Valley, Gore was greeted by an ad in the San Jose Mercury News, bought by the George W. Bush campaign, that lauded the Republican's support from 200 technology industry leaders. Included were chief executives Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems, Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corp., John Chambers of Cisco Systems and Jim Barksdale of The Barksdale Group.

Yet the notion of California as political territory friendly to Gore was underscored Tuesday with the release of a state poll that showed the Democratic nominee leading Texas Gov. Bush by 48% to 39%.

The survey, by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, confirmed other independent polls in California and elsewhere that have shown Gore with a strong appeal to female and independent voters.

One of the issues driving Gore's success here, the poll showed, is health care, which was the focus of his limited public schedule Tuesday. Gore, in his speech in North Hills, said that current protections against the dissemination of medical information are inadequate. So too, he said, are the protections about to be issued by the Clinton administration.

Among the examples he cited was a case in which a medical firm pitched to pharmaceutical marketers a database that contained the names of 380,000 potential customers who suffer from clinical depression. In another, a couple began receiving baby formula in the mail shortly after the woman learned she was pregnant.

Congress pledged in 1996 to craft privacy protections within three years but has not acted, Gore said. In that void, the Clinton administration is soon scheduled to issue regulations about privacy. But the administration can only go so far by fiat, Gore said.

Under law, the regulations can only apply to electronic records, not covering the many medical records still maintained on paper. Further, the Clinton regulations cannot reach employers, workers' compensation insurers, life insurers and law enforcement, who may handle sensitive health information. It would take legislation--which Gore said he would back--to give full privacy protection.

"You have a fundamental right to privacy, and no powerful interest should be allowed to sell it off or take it away," Gore said. "I will fight to make sure your medical records are always kept private and secure."

The Gore privacy speech was one of only two public events on his schedule during his California visit, the other being a rally with supporters this morning before he flies back to Washington.

The vice president also made a brief appearance Tuesday on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. Reading from cue cards, Leno told his audience, "Now, according to the latest polls, Al Gore is the handsomest, smartest, most qualified--what?" The camera panned over to show Gore holding up cards that Leno was reading.

Lieberman blistered Bush during a midday rally Tuesday in an amphitheater at Cal State Fresno.

He belittled in particular Bush's contention that he would not scale back his planned tax cut in the event of an economic downturn.

"In fact, Gov. Bush said he would accelerate it, even if it meant taking America back down the road to deficits," Lieberman said to boos from the crowd of 1,000.

"You know, we can't afford that," Lieberman continued. "Because you know where deficits lead."

"High interest rates!" a woman in the audience yelled out.

"I'm going to take you along with me," Lieberman responded, laughing. "What are you doing the rest of the week?"


Times staff writers Michael Finnegan and Alissa Rubin contributed to this story. It was written by Times political writer Cathleen Decker.

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