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Al Gore in 1996. (AP)

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Attorneys for Gore, DNC Knew of 'Hard Money' Deposits for Months

By Bob Woodward
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 9, 1997; Page A04

Attorneys for Vice President Gore and the Democratic National Committee have known for at least three months that portions of campaign contributions solicited by Gore were deposited in a so-called "hard money" account that is strictly regulated under the law and subject to potential Justice Department scrutiny.

They also knew the hard money deposits could be a significant factor in the department's determination whether to ask for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the campaign fund-raising controversy, according to government officials.

Several months ago, DNC General Counsel Joseph E. Sandler determined that $600,000 in hard money deposits had come from contributors listed on Gore's call sheets. Sandler found only five contributions, totaling $80,000, that were directly attributable to calls from Gore, although an analysis of the call sheets and contributions by The Washington Post last week found at least $120,000.

Sources said that Sandler's information was turned over on June 10 to the Senate committee investigating campaign fund-raising, and that Sandler later discussed it in a sworn deposition in late August.

It was not clear last night why the Justice Department, which apparently had obtained early this summer some of the key documents relating to Gore's phone solicitations, had not examined whether any of the money Gore solicited had gone into hard money accounts. Records of all donations, and which account they are deposited into, are publicly available from the Federal Election Commission.

Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg said last night that he could not comment because the review of the vice president's phone solicitations is pending.

Attorney General Janet Reno last week ordered a formal review of solicitations made from Gore's White House telephone after reading the Post story, beginning a process that ultimately could lead to the appointment of an independent counsel. In the past she has maintained that evidence indicated only "soft money" had been raised in White House solicitations.

Soft money donations are not limited by amount or type of donor – including corporations and unions – but can only be used for general political party expenses. Hard money, which can be used for specific campaigns, can be contributed to the party only by individuals, in increments no greater than $20,000 a year. Reno has interpreted the law prohibiting campaign solicitations from federal property to apply only to hard money.

After Reno ordered her review last week, the Justice Department issued what is called "an expedited voluntary request" to Gore's office for all documents relating to the phone solicitations. According to a senior White House official, Gore and his staff were fully cooperating with any Justice Department or congressional requests.

Officials in the White House, the Justice Department and Congress said that literally tens of thousands of pages of documents have been produced and must be reviewed. "It is impossible in a short time to connect all the documents with the possible lines of investigation," one official said yesterday.

The phone solicitations became a public issue in March when Gore publicly defended both their propriety and legality, declaring several times that "no controlling legal authority" prohibited him from soliciting campaign funds from his White House office.

In April, Reno effectively backed him up, saying in a 10-page letter to the Senate that the law against soliciting from federal property applied only to "funds commonly referred to as `hard money.' "

After DNC counsel Sandler reviewed the solicitations and determined that some of the money had gone into the more restrictive hard money account, Sandler, Gore's attorneys and attorneys for the Clinton-Gore campaign discussed the potential significance of his conclusions. But the fruits of that discussion apparently never made their way to the Justice Department.

A White House official said the focus of the Justice effort at that time was to determine how many phone solicitations Gore made, whom he called and how the calls were billed.

Jeff Glasser contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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