WashingtonWatch: Friends of Al

Now that Al Gore is mulling over the choice of a criminal lawyer, the race to succeed Bill Clinton in 2000 has suddenly undergone a sea change. Only a month ago polls showed Gore's reputation for integrity higher than Bubba's; now Gore is sinking like a stone. A Los Angeles Times survey released last Friday says that the veep's approval rating has plummeted a vertiginous 30 percent, to only 34 percent. The appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Gore's role in the Donorgate scandal is now inevitable, but the revelations that Gore illegally used his White House office to raise hard money for the '96 campaign are only the beginning. Any probe will ineluctably lead to a dissection of the entire Gore fundraising operation, and the sleazy characters who people it. There's Floridian Howard Glicken, who was a key fundraiser for Gore's '88 presidential campaign and who collected $2 million for Clinton/Gore last year. A longtime friend of the veep and his wife who has hosted book parties for both in his Coral Gables home, Glicken headed a gold-trading company that was indicted by the feds two years ago in a major case involving drug-money laundering. Glicken escaped prosecution only by cutting an immunity deal with prosecutors; the company was penalized $375,000, and Glicken's partner went to prison for 27 years. Glicken was in and out of the White House at least 50 times, and used the access he bought with campaign cash to grease the way for his clients south of the border-to whom, according to the Wall Street Journal, he sold himself as a key Gore Latin America adviser.There's Noach Dear, a race-baiting right-wing Democratic City Councilman from Brooklyn. Dear ran Gore's '88 presidential campaign in New York and raised another $2 million for the '96 campaign from his power base in the Orthodox Jewish community. He was also a business partner of convicted Medicaid swindler Eugene Hollander, a nursing home magnate. In 1993 Dear was caught siphoning monies for his personal and political use from a charity he headed, Save Soviet Jewry.There's Nate Landow, a Maryland developer who was a key founder of the neo-conservative Democratic Leadership Council and the financial godfather of Gore's '88 campaign. Landow had raised bales of cash for Jimmy Carter and was slated to become ambassador to the Netherlands-until reports that he'd been involved in casino and hotel construction deals with members of the Gambino and Meyer-Lansky cartels forced him to withdraw from consideration. In '96, after an impoverished Oklahoma Indian tribe shelled out $100,000 for Clinton/Gore in return for promised help in reclaiming mineral-rich tribal lands, the DNC put the Cheyenne/Arapaho leaders in touch with Landow-who, they say, tried to shake them down for 10 percent of any revenues from the land if it were recovered. Of most immediate legal concern to Gore, however, are the campaign cash collections of Peter Knight, who headed Gore's House and Senate staffs until he became a pricey K Street lobbyist in 1989. Gore engineered Knight's appointment as chair of the '96 Clinton/Gore campaign, for which he personally raised $19 million, much of it from clients doing business with the federal government. And "Time"reports this week that the Justice Department is already investigating Knight's dealings with Assistant Energy Secretary Tom Grumbly, a former Gore staffer under Knight who turned the department's multi-billion-dollar toxic waste clean-up fund into a political pork barrel.Grumbly awarded Knight's lobbying client Bill Haney a $33 million contract to test a toxic waste cleanup process. He kept renewing it despite repeated warnings from government scientists that Haney's process might not work, was not cost-effective, and presented serious environmental and safety risks. Haney and his business partners gave a total of $182,000 to the Democrats in the last election cycle, with many of the contributions being made on the very days Grumbly renewed Haney's contracts. Gore himself delivered an Earth Day speech at Haney's home plant in Massachusetts, praising the businessman as "a shining example of American ingenuity." Indeed.Gore's man at Energy also gave another Knight client, Fluor (Daniel?) Corporation, a $5 billion contract to clean up toxic waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington. Fluor and its PAC coughed up $203,000 for the Clinton/Gore fundraising machine in '95-'96, including $100,000 only two months before the Hanford contract was signed.This by no means exhaustive list of Gore's corrupt cronies and their shady doings tells us why an independent counsel investigation will stretch out well into the 2000 campaign and sink Gore's candidacy. And all of this underscores why radical campaign reform is the only way to take politics away from the special interests and give it back to the people.

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