Book ties hopefuls, long-term donors

By Elizabeth Hurt, States News Service, 1/6/2000

WASHINGTON - Despite all the talk this election season about the need to reform campaign finance, none of the presidential candidates is free from the holds of wealthy donors and special interests, according to a book released yesterday.

''The Buying of the President 2000,'' written by Charles Lewis and the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, tracks ''career patrons,'' the top donors to each major presidential candidate throughout their political careers.

Many of the presidential campaigns said the center's picture was a fabrication made up of unconfirmed connections.

The book is the result of an 18-month investigation into the personal and campaign ties of the candidates to various economic interests who do business with the government.

While a senator from New Jersey, the book says, Democrat Bill Bradley introduced 45 bills on behalf of the chemical industry, which has supported both his Senate and presidential campaigns. Lewis also attempts to link Bradley's political decisions with his Wall Street contributors, which make up five of his top 10 ''career patrons.''

Saying the book was an attempt by the center to get headlines, a spokeswoman for Bradley, Kristen Ludecke, said Bradley is not influenced by his donors.

The book cites a longtime relationship between Vice President Al Gore and Occidental Petroleum Co. Occidental's former chairman, Armand Hammer, hired Gore's father, the late Albert Gore Sr., for $500,000 a year after the elder Gore retired from the US Senate in 1970.

Lewis said Occidental was rewarded for its support of the Gores in 1997, when the government sold 47,000 acres of the Elk Hills field in Bakersfield, Calif., to the oil company.

Gore's campaign called the conclusions drawn by the book ''mysterious, tenuous and thin.''

The book also attempts to link Texas Governor George W. Bush with Harvard Management Co., the investment firm charged with managing the university's endowment.

In the mid 1980s, Bush was a director and paid consultant for Harken Oil and Gas, a Dallas-based oil exploration company. Soon after Bush signed on, Harvard Management agreed to invest at least $20 million in the company.

Lewis believes it was the Bush name that attracted Harvard to the company. Just before Harken started losing money in 1990, Bush avoided the downturn by selling his shares to an unnamed investor. Through an unconfirmed series of events, Lewis suggests Harvard was the investor.

Lewis claims Bush returned the favor to Harvard when he became governor.

Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said he could not comment specifically on the alleged relationship between the management firm and the governor because he had not seen the book. But he said Bush does not return favors with political decisions.

Lewis also criticized Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who has pledged not to accept any soft money donations if nominated for president by his party, as a politician ''who rarely breaks ranks with the special interests who finance his campaigns.''

McCain's campaign could not be reached for comment.