Bradley says move on firm 'no big deal'

By Michael Crowley and Tina Cassidy, Globe Staff, 1/13/1999

oncluding a weeklong campaign swing through Iowa yesterday, former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey shrugged off a report that he intervened with regulators for a company whose officers contributed to his campaign, while one of those officers said it had been difficult even to get Bradley's attention.

Asked about a 1994 letter he wrote asking Ronald H. Brown, the late commerce secretary, to resolve a trade dispute involving the Sigma Corp. of Cream Ridge, N.J., Bradley defended his action and said the letter ''was not a big deal.''

''I don't think it's wrong at all,'' Bradley told reporters. ''What am I going to say to a New Jersey company - `No, I'm not going to write on your behalf to get a decision'?''

The previous year, two Sigma executives donated $500 each to Bradley, then a senator. When the issue of senators intervening for campaign contributors arose earlier this month - after the Globe reported that Senator John McCain had done so - Bradley told reporters he had a ''basic policy'' of not taking such action.

Yesterday, Sigma's president said he had to try several times to get Bradley to respond to his problem, which concerned the company's appeal of an export tariff.

Victor Pais, president of the pipe-fitting manufacturer, said Bradley's staff told him the senator was too busy working on legislation regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement and was not available to meet with him. Pais said a staffer eventually offered to write a letter on Bradley's behalf asking the Commerce Department to reach a quick conclusion.

Bradley noted yesterday that his letter only asked the Commerce Department to give the matter ''expeditious treatment'' and did not urge a particular ruling. Pais said the letter had no effect on the Sigma case, which the company won in court.

GQ, the magazine looking for fashion in all the wrong places, wrote an item off the campaign trail about candidates' shoes, saying Senator John McCain wore Easy Spirits, which he deemed his lucky debate footware.

Not so. McCain's shoes came straight from the L.L. Bean Outlet in New Hampshire. He wears them with the same blue suit and ''special'' pen-as-prop for each debate. In fact, superstition permeates the McCain campaign, whose manager, Michael Murphy, dresses in a Hawaiian shirt on debate days. The pre-debate meal is also predictable. Oddly, it's barbecue.

McCain, who sponsored the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, yesterday said Native Americans should not be allowed to swap remote tribal lands for more centrally located sites conducive to gambling.

''I come down on the side of Indian gaming,'' McCain said. ''But I do not support the acquisition of land for gaming purposes.''

The 1988 law lets tribes operate casinos on Indian land without having to pay taxes on proceeds.

Jill Zuckman contributed to this report from Iowa. Cassidy reported from New Hampshire, and Crowley from Iowa and Boston.