Clintonitis D.C. disease: Vice President Gore is latest victim of president's fund-raising obsession.

March 04, 1997

AL GORE seems to have succumbed to a Washington disease, now reaching epidemic proportions, that is known as Clintonitis. It is a serious sickness transmitted mainly to persons who have been exposed in various ways to the president of the United States. Suicide, indictment, prison, betrayal, derision, disgrace, defeat, dismissal -- there seems to be no end to the ravages of this illness. Now the latest victim, the vice president, may be on the way to a rest home rather than the White House in 2000.

In the 1996 presidential campaign, Mr. Gore was "solicitor-in-chief" for the massive Democratic fund-raising campaign. Long considered a model of rectitude in an administration that is anything but, Mr. Gore's first touch of notoriety came when his "community outreach" visit to a Buddhist temple turned out to be a money-laundering exercise of dubious legality.

Latest revelations have him personally telephoning fat cats for contributions, often in ways that donors found intimidating and unseemly. Even a bare-knuckles politician, Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., deemed such conduct "undefendable." "Money became a near obsession at the highest levels," says former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos. "We pulled out all stops." If it should be established that such grubbing transpired on federal property, or even on privately leased telephone wires installed on government property, the defense lawyers may have to be called in.

Even Democratic lawmakers are joining in the clamor for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate alleged transgressions of the Clinton-Gore campaign. One Washington politician who can't help but be pleased with this turn of events is House minority leader Richard Gephardt, Mr. Gore's putative chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000.

This whole Washington brouhaha, in addition to its entertainment value, could turn out to be a blessing if it shames both Democrats and Republicans into reforming a campaign funding system that is blatantly corrupt and out of control. But that is scant comfort to an ambitious vice president who must know that ridicule is a politician's worst enemy.

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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