Sarbanes, Brock focus on integrity CAMPAIGN 1994 -- U.S. SENATE

October 28, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Marina Sarris contributed to this article.

Maryland's U.S. Senate candidates took aim at each other's integrity in a heated debate last night, but they avoided outright accusations of lying and lawbreaking.

Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes took the offensive early, after Republican challenger Bill Brock denied supporting a $10 billion-a-year gasoline tax increase in 1988.

"I didn't do that," said Mr. Brock, who has tried to paint Mr. Sarbanes as a tax-and-spend liberal. "There's simply no record of that at all."

Mr. Sarbanes produced what he said was a transcript of a 1988 hearing before the National Economic Commission from which he quoted Mr. Brock as saying: "To sum up, then, I'd like to see a major increase in the tax burden on gasoline."

According to Mr. Sarbanes' reading of the transcript, a commission member said: "The impact of the gasoline tax, Mr. Brock, would be approximately $10 billion a year at 10 cents."

"Secretary Brock: 'That's right,' " Mr. Sarbanes read.

"The critical issue is whether you're being candid in your response," Mr. Sarbanes said to Mr. Brock, a former U.S. secretary of labor and senator from Tennessee.

After the debate, Mr. Brock told a reporter, "That transcript must be wrong."

Copies of the hearing transcript have been floating around the Senate race for more than two months, and newspaper stories have referred to Mr. Brock's support for the gasoline tax. Last night was the first time the Republican candidate had publicly disputed it.

Later in the hourlong debate broadcast on WNUV-TV (Channel 54), Mr. Brock put Mr. Sarbanes on the spot on the issue of campaign finance reform, setting off the most heated exchange of the evening.

The challenger produced what he said was a letter for a fund-raiser for Mr. Sarbanes that was held in New York by foreign banks.

It is against U.S. law to accept campaign contributions from foreign interests. If Mr. Sarbanes wins on Election Day, Nov. 8, and the Democrats retain the Senate, he is expected to become the next chairman of the Banking Committee.

"They're not allowed to give directly or indirectly," Mr. Brock said of the banks. "Where's the money coming from? What's the rule here? Does it not apply to you? Are you above the law?"

"None of those banks are giving money," Mr. Sarbanes replied angrily. "I'm not above the law, and we have scrupulously followed the law throughout my political career. You may come after me on the issues, but you're not going to come after me on that."

"There it is," said Mr. Brock, handing the letter to him.

Mr. Sarbanes held the letter for an instant and then, with evident disgust, let it float to the floor.

Afterward, Mr. Sarbanes' camp said U.S. citizens who worked for foreign banks had contributed money through the fund-raiser and therefore had not violated the law.

The debate last night -- the second one and the last one planned -- followed a poll released last week that found Mr. Brock trailing the incumbent by 25 percentage points.

WNUV officials estimated that the program was seen by no more than 20,000 households out of the approximately 400,000 that view television during the time period.

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