Of pots and kettles

June 23, 1994|By Marianne Means

Washington -- IN THE give-and-take of national politics, what goes around eventually comes around.

But seldom has there been such prompt exposure of the darkened contours of a pot currently busy calling a kettle black as in the case of that self-styled ethics monitor, New York Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Ama to.

This is both heartening and discouraging.

Those who throw stones should not be allowed to avoid the shattering consequences of living in glass houses. Even politicians ought to be held to their own professed standards of virtue.

Mr. D'Amato has been the Senate's leading partisan attacker calling for public hearings into the financial dealings of President and Mrs. Clinton during their Arkansas statehouse years.

He professed profound shock at Hillary Clinton's unusually successful cattle futures trading between October 1978 and July 1979, when she made $100,000 on an initial deposit of $1,000.

He found it sinister that she got into the commodities game with less money than required by other traders, had what looks like preferential treatment, used a broker in trouble for dubious practices and quickly turned a huge profit. Only last week he accused the Democrats of refusing to probe her commodities investments because they might prove "embarrassing." Earlier he had thundered that "congressional hearings are the only way to get straight answers to the serious questions . . ."

But now we learn that Mr. D'Amato, who happens to be ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, made a profit of more than $37,000 in a single day in an obscure stock taken public by a brokerage house whose officials had contributed to his 1992 re-election campaign. Other brokers said it was unusual for an investor with Mr. D'Amato's modest portfolio to be allowed to buy so many shares in an initial offering.

The brokerage house involved has been cited for manipulating stock prices and other trading violations.

Officials of the brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont Inc. of Lake Success, N.Y., contributed to Mr. D'Amato's re-election campaign. The campaign returned $8,000, representing contributions from three of the firm's executives. The Securities and Exchange Commission has fined the company $2.5 million for the trading violations.

Mr. D'Amato earned $37,125 by buying shares in an initial public offering of Computer Marketplace Inc. and selling the same day after the share price jumped from $4 to $12.25.

Mr. D'Amato and Hillary Clinton even have a defense in common. He says he left the trading to someone else, wasn't aware of any special treatment and didn't make money on every single investment he made. That's exactly what she says.

"I am no Hillary Clinton," Mr. D'Amato huffed. True enough; on the basis of both their records, she's cleaner than he is. There have been many charges of improper conduct against Mr. D'Amato over the years, often resulting in the hasty return of apparently illegal contributions.

Is it outrageous behavior to take what looks like an indirect bonus from friends who also have potential business before a state government when a governor's wife does it but not when the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee does it?

If there is any wrong-doing in either case, it is Mr. D'Amato, whose committee has jurisdiction over the SEC.

Actually, Mr. D'Amato has already been hauled before the Senate Ethics Committee, which reprimanded him for allowing his brother Armand to use the Senate office while helping a defense contractor. Other charges of wrongdoing against the senator were dropped.

Mr. D'Amato was treated lightly by the ethics committee because he denied knowing what his brother was up to as he sat a few feet away from the senator's own desk. They took the lawmaker's word for it.

Armand, however, was later convicted of mail fraud. He remains free on bond pending appeal.

Marianne Means is a syndicated columnist.

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