Gore admits getting $9,990 from tobacco PACs after cancer killed smoker sister Disclosure comes after his speech citing her death

Democratic Convention

Campaign 1996

August 30, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

CHICAGO -- A day after emotionally telling the nation about his sister's painful death to lung cancer, Vice President Al Gore yesterday found himself sheepishly explaining to reporters how he accepted campaign contributions from the tobacco industry after her death in 1984.

Records show that Gore accepted $9,990 from political action committees that represented tobacco interests while he was a Tennessee senator. That money was given between 1985 and 1990.

"I was continuing to grow into a new way of understanding the issue," Gore told reporters yesterday. "That's just the fact."

During his prime-time speech that moved many delegates to tears at the Democratic National Convention, Gore told about the death of his sister, Nancy, who started smoking at age 13, had a lung removed at 45 and then eventually died in the hospital with her family around her.

During his speech, Gore pledged: "Until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into the cause of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking."

Reporters asked Gore about a statement he made to North Carolina tobacco farmers in 1988 -- four years after his sister's death -- during his race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

He said then: "Throughout most of my life, I raised tobacco. I want you to know that with my own hands, all of my life, I put it in the plant beds and transferred it. I've hoed it. I've chopped it. I've shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it, and sold it."

Yesterday, Gore said that "in spite of having suffered the loss, I still felt a numbness that prevented me from integrating into all aspects of my life the implications of what that tragedy really meant.

"It's a natural human failing that we all have. It takes time to fully absorb the most important lessons in life. Sometimes a new awareness, a new way of thinking begins slowly and you grow into it."

He said he continued to receive an annual lease payment from his tobacco property for a few years after his sister's death until he surrendered the payment.

"My mother and father continued to grow tobacco on our farm for several years after her death," he said.

Gore said that his political career "prodded" him to ponder these questions.

"I was blessed with opportunities to come back to it and examine it over and over again," he said. "As I did I grew into a greater awareness of the fact that this same tragedy that hit my family was hitting 400,000 American families every year."

Asked why he didn't mention that he used to grow tobacco during his speech, Gore said he thought about it. "[But] I don't know. It seemed like it might be better to focus on what was most important about that story," he said.

Before the issue of financial connections to the tobacco industry came up, Gore told reporters how he came to make the emotional speech.

He said that "in order to break through that numbness and integrate the reality that we are facing in America where this issue is concerned, it was important to tell that story."

Records show that Gore accepted a total of $9,990 from political action committees that represented tobacco interests while he was a senator. All of that money was given between 1985 and 1990.

The Philip Morris PAC was the biggest contributor, giving a total of $6,340 to Gore. RJR PAC, the Smokeless Tobacco Council PAC and the Tobacco Institute PAC each gave him $1,000. Brown and Williamson Tobacco added $650.

The $9,990 that Gore got from the tobacco PACs is a relatively small amount of money for a senator who represented a tobacco producing state.

For example, Fred Thompson, the Republican who now holds the Senate seat Gore vacated when he became vice president, has collected nearly four times as much from tobacco PACs since 1993.

Pub Date: 8/30/96

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