Soft money becomes N.Y. political football

By Marc Humbert, Associated Press, 3/16/2000

ALBANY, N.Y. - Democrats yesterday denounced Rudolph W. Giuliani's decision to collect unlimited soft-money donations for his Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton. The move had ''the stench of hypocrisy,'' a campaign committee statement said.

Giuliani, New York's mayor, has criticized Clinton's decision to set up soft-money accounts for the Senate race. One denunciation was issued as recently as last week in a letter to potential donors.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's campaign sent out fund-raising letters linking a direct-mail specialist hired by Giuliani to David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan figure.

Noting that Giuliani has hired Richard Viguerie, the conservative pundit, to raise money from conservatives across the country, a Clinton campaign manager, Bill de Blasio, wrote: ''Viguerie has raised money for Oliver North, Jesse Helms, Pat Buchanan, the NRA and the Reverend Sung Myung Moon's Unification Church. He's even said that David Duke has `a very good, sound message.'''

In an interview, de Blasio denied trying to inject racism into the campaign by using Duke's name.

''We think it's important that people understand the kind of campaign Giuliani is running and the kind of people he chose to ally himself with ... We are explaining to people and reminding people who Richard Viguerie is,'' de Blasio said. ''We are not trying to do anything more than that.''

There was the mention of Duke's name, which may reflect a Clinton desire to energize the black vote against Giuliani.

Asked about de Blasio's letter, Giuliani's campaign manager, Bruce Teitelbaum, said: ''The only Senate candidate with ties to racial extremists with a history of inflaming racial tensions is Hillary Clinton, given her embrace of Al Sharpton.''

Clinton has visited Sharpton at his Harlem center.

On the soft-money front, Stuart Roy, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee that helped set up the Giuliani account, said it was done to remain competitive.

''We're going to fight fire with fire,'' Roy said.

''We're not going to go into this race with one hand tied behind our back,'' Teitelbaum said.

Roy said the Giuliani Victory Committee, which can legally accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations, has been set up in conjunction with Giuliani's own Senate campaign committee.

One GOP operative, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a similar Giuliani soft-money committee was being created with the state GOP.

Supporters are being asked to contribute up to $50,000 a couple to attend the Giuliani Victory Committee's inaugural dinner on March 23 in New York City. The event is expected to raise as much as $1 million.

''There are no limits to the amount of money you can give,'' Teitelbaum wrote in a March 3 letter announcing the dinner.

Political soft money, and abuses tied to it, became a major issue in the wake of the 1996 presidential race in which President Clinton made heavy use of it in his victory over Bob Dole. Such money can be used to attack or boost one candidate or another, as long it does not directly advocate voting for a particular candidate.

Teitelbaum said the move had been prompted by ''the enormous amounts of unethical fund-raising the Justice Department has allowed the Clintons to do.''

While Giuliani criticized Clinton last year for her establishment of soft-money committees, he refused to rule out following suit.

Last week, Giuliani sent out a fund-raising letter for his campaign committee saying that ''the Clintons were skirting the law by raising millions of dollars in unregulated `soft money' to help finance Hillary's campaign against me.''

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which set up a soft-money operation for the first lady last year, issued a statement saying that given the mayor's earlier criticism of Clinton, his move has ''the stench of hypocrisy.''

''This is the rankest, most fundamental personal dishonesty,'' the statement said.

Clinton's soft money accounts had collected more than $700,000 as of the end of last year and such funds are expected to become crucial closer to Election Day as the two camps pour money into television advertisements and seek large sums quickly.