Environmentalists Offered Access to Gore
By Ceci Connolly
The last-minute money press reflects twin challenges facing Gore: He needs to demonstrate as much fund-raising prowess as possible in his next campaign finance report and he wants to prove that last week's endorsement of Bill Bradley by Friends of the Earth was an anomaly, not the start of a trend among environmental groups.
"It's admittedly a reaction to" the Bradley endorsement, said Miami lawyer Mitchell Berger. "We wanted to make sure the vice president knew we appreciated his efforts for the environmental community over the years."
One environmentalist said Gore was "personally wounded" by the decision of Friends of the Earth to back his rival for the Democratic nomination. Now his aides are eager to reassure Gore--and the public--that he retains the support of other environmental activists.
At the same time, Gore finds himself in a precarious financial situation. He has already been overwhelmed by Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R), who has raised $52 million so far for the primary campaign--perhaps twice what Gore will have in his Sept. 30 Federal Election Commission report. And Bradley is posing a surprising political and financial threat to Gore, whose aides are intensely focused on posting a bigger balance than the New Jersey Democrat in the quarterly report.
Former Gore aides and one-time administration officials working in the private sector launched a frenetic round of coast-to-coast telephone calls in recent days to a network that includes environmental engineers and protectors of Florida's Everglades and California's coast.
"I am calling people I know who have very strong environmental beliefs but are not necessarily connected to an organization," said John Garamendi, a former Interior Department official who has reached 10 fund-raisers so far. "They believe Al Gore is solid and has proven himself in the last seven years."
Initially, the Gore team planned an intimate soiree with the vice president and environmentalists at the home of fund-raiser Peter Knight. The gathering was described as a chance to exchange views with the vice president in a small, informal setting, said one invitee. The plans were changed to a session with Coelho--and a later reception with Gore--because of scheduling conflicts.
One environmental consultant who was solicited to raise the money said he was offended by the tactic of offering a meeting with Gore on the condition that he come with checks in hand.
" 'And by the way, it's $5,000 a pop,' " this consultant said, describing the call. "Now they're selling access to the vice president so he can explain himself."
While Friends of the Earth is widely considered a small, left-of-center organization with not much money, its Sept. 14 endorsement of Bradley reopened festering wounds between Gore and what should be one of his most loyal constituencies.
"There's always been a mystery about Gore" in the environmental community because of his mixed record on the issue since being elected vice president, said Arlie Schardt, a former Gore staff member and president of the nonprofit Environmental Media Services. "People for years have wondered, why isn't he doing more? I hear that from people all the time."
Another disillusioned Gore environmentalist said Gore has erred by trying to play down his environmental leanings while in office. "He ought to stop apologizing for who he is and run on it because it's good and people agree with him," this person said.
The Gore campaign is internally divided about how much to trumpet his environmental credentials, with some advisers fearful that he will be tarred as anti-business and too liberal, while others say he cannot abandon his long-standing views and will in fact attract voters because of his stance on the environment.
Gore himself continues to try to reach out to the environmental community. On Tuesday, he convened a private meeting on global warming with about a dozen prominent environmental leaders and a handful of lobbyists representing alternative fuels producers.
"It was a very positive meeting," said one attendee who refused to discuss details because he had been "sworn to secrecy" by the vice president. Although Gore made no commitments, at least two prominent environmental leaders were encouraged he will help fight for higher fuel economy standards.
Yesterday, activists also complained that Gore has surrounded himself with advisers who have less than stellar environmental credentials. Two targeted consultant Carter Eskew for his previous work fighting anti-smoking legislation and tighter smog controls.
"Here is a guy who conducted a $40 million advertising campaign to defeat tobacco reform and as far as I'm concerned is single-handedly accountable for addicting another whole generation of American kids," said Schardt. "It was a huge, huge disappointment and it fostered a lot of cynicism."
Eskew said that his parent company, Bozell Sawyer Miller Group, did represent a coalition opposed to the 1997 smog and soot regulations but said he did not personally work on the advertising account.
Staff writer Al Kamen contributed to this report.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company