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Jewish World Review March 31, 2000 / 24 Adar II, 5760

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Ironic timing: Gore's talk of ethics laughable -- WHO SAYS AL GORE has no sense of humor? Why, he had them rolling in the aisles earlier this week when he stood with straight man Russ Feingold to announce that his first official act if he's elected president in November will be to send Sen. Feingold's campaign finance reform bill to Congress. Imagine, the man who euchred campaign contributions from a bunch of impoverished Buddhist nuns and monks in 1996 now bemoaning political fund raising as "a cancer on our democracy."

Who's writing this stuff, Jon Lovitz, the former Saturday Night Live comedian best known for his character Tommy Flannigan (aka "The Liar")? Al Gore invented campaign finance reform. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Gore's timing couldn't be funnier. This week alone, the Justice Department announced it will open a criminal investigation into missing e-mails from the vice president's office, which may contain new information on the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign finance scandals. It seems no one in the vice president's office or the White House bothered to inform either Congress or the Justice Department, which was investigating the fund-raising scandals at the time, that hundreds of subpoenaed e-mails from the vice president's office were missing. When an outside computer consultant raised questions about the problem, a White House staffer reportedly told the man, "There would be a jail cell with my name on it," if he mentioned the problem even to his own wife. What a bunch of kidders those White House folks are.

And it's not just the vice president's office that's in hot water with the Justice Department. The department also said last week that it was investigating Gore campaign chairman Tony Coelho for some possibly illegal financial transactions he made when he headed up the U.S. exhibition at the Expo '98 World's Fair in Portugal before joining Gore's presidential campaign. It's not the first time Coelho has been implicated in financial shenanigans. Coelho resigned his House post as Democratic Majority Whip in 1987 when it was discovered he'd taken money from a savings and loan executive to invest in junk bonds, without reporting it on financial disclosure forms.

Who better to lead Americans into an ethics renaissance than Gore-Coelho? I haven't laughed so hard since Bill Clinton promised his administration would be the most ethical in U.S. history.

As amusing as this whole spectacle is to Washington insiders, who know that Gore's conversion on campaign finance reform is about as sincere as Elmer Gantry's embrace of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, I can't help wondering whether the vice president isn't playing American voters for fools. Maybe he thinks voters aren't smart enough to figure out the complicated mess he and Bill Clinton made of 1996 presidential campaign fund raising. Gore hopes voters will forget about the phone calls he made from his vice presidential office soliciting campaign dollars, even though he knew the calls flouted the law.
He wants voters to accept his explanation that his involvement in fund raising at a Buddhist Temple was merely a misunderstanding -- too bad Gore friend and fund-raiser Maria Hsia may end up in jail for her involvement in the vice president's little mistake, which landed her a felony conviction.

But Gore's antics may catch up with him yet. A recent Pew poll shows that more than half the respondents would be less likely to vote for Gore for president if they were told he took part in unethical fund-raising practices in 1996.

Maybe Gore's banking on P.T. Barnum's assessment of the American public, "There's a sucker born every minute." He'd be better advised to follow Abe Lincoln's advice: "It is true you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can't fool all of the people all the time."

Campaign finance reform? Quit pulling our leg, Al.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate