The Consortium

Bob Dole's presidential campaign has designated "character" the defining issue of 1996. In recent speeches, Bob Dole dismisses Bill Clinton as a "pretender," a word suggesting an illegitimacy about Clinton's presidency as well as doubts about his integrity. And certainly, Clinton has not helped himself with "snafus" such as the FBI-files caper and the continuing allegations from the Whitewater affair.

But what about Bob Dole's character? Is the new ex-senator the unquestionably honorable public servant that his campaign literature and much of the Washington media would have the public believe? Or is Dole a "Senator for Sale," as ex-Dole aide Stanley G. Hilton argues in an unauthorized biography by that title?

Possibly the defining "character" issue of Dole's 35-year congressional career has been how much money Dole has raised from a wide array of special interests. Many of those interests had issues before the Senate or the Senate Finance Committee where Dole wielded enormous power, often exercised behind closed doors.

Since 1973, when the Federal Election Commission started counting, Dole has raised an astonishing $48 million, according to The Buying of the President by Charles Lewis. Dole has also committed repeated infractions in how he has raised and reported his political donations. In 1993, Dole was fined a record $122,975 for accepting more than $350,000 in illegal contributions to his 1988 presidential bid.

Dole's recent public musings about whether tobacco really is addictive and his promise to fire Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler may have been influenced by his huge political debt to Big Tobacco. Dole has received $330,000 from tobacco interests, a Mother Jones study found.

Before the 1994 election, Republicans racked up $546,224 in soft donations from Big Tobacco. With Bob Dole as Senate majority leader in 1995, those contributions soared to $2.4 million. In reviewing the FEC records for Dole's leadership PAC, Campaign America, The Consortium discovered that US Tobacco of Greenwich, Conn., provided a score of flights for Republicans running for various elective offices. The costs were later reimbursed by Campaign America.

Dole has faced numerous other questions about conflicts of interest. For instance, his close political and personal relationship with Dwayne Andreas of agri-business giant Archer Daniels Midland has raised eyebrows because ADM has benefitted from ethanol subsidies strongly supported by Sen. Dole. Dole also went to bat for David and Charles Koch when those two wealthy Kansas oilmen came under Senate scrutiny for allegedly cheating Indians on oil purchases.

But in this media age of personality over substance, Clinton's misdeeds continue to resonate, while Dole's past as a political hatchetman and fixer get little attention. He is judged the clear-cut winner of the "character" debate.

Sam Parry, Managing Editor

(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

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