LAST SUNDAY Robert and Elizabeth Dole terminated their blind trust and revealed, along with a record 21 years of income tax returns, the transactions the blind trust had engaged in. Do these records reveal any misconduct by either of the Doles?
The blind trust was set up in 1985, when Mrs. Dole became secretary of transportation, with assets of $1.2 million. Investments were made at the advice of David Owen, a Kansas politician and banker who had managed Mr. Dole's 1974 and 1980 Senate campaigns and served as national finance cochairman of his presidential campaign, and whose company received a six-figure loan from Mrs. Dole before the blind trust was established. Afterward, the trust bought farmland in Kansas from Mr. Owen and purchased for $1.35 million an Overland Park, Kans., office building in a transaction on which Mr. Owen made a $139,000 commission.
To an outside observer these transactions raise the question of whether Mr. Owen was using his advisory position unfairly for his own benefit. The abruptness with which he and the Dole campaign parted last week suggests the Doles were unhappy with his performance. But the value of the trust rose 30 percent in three years, and whether Mr. Owen faithfully performed his duties is a private issue between him and the Doles.
A public issue is raised by another series of transactions. Sen. Dole admits that for a year he helped a former aide, John Palmer, establish contact with the Small Business Administration, "as we would do for any constituent," and that Mr. Palmer's company in February 1986 got a $30 million, three-year, no-bid contract to provide food services at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. In December 1986 Mr. Palmer's company, which employed Mr. Owen as a financial adviser, bought from the Dole blind trust a half-share in the Overland Park, Kans., building, yielding a net profit of $63,182 for the Doles.
Taking the worst view of these transactions, you might argue that Sen. Dole used his influence to get government financing for Mr. Palmer so that he in turn could enrich the Doles by buying a half-share of their building. But to sustain that view, you must assume (a) that Sen. Dole exceeded bounds of propriety in contacting the SBA about Mr. Palmer, (b) that the Doles had knowledge of the dealings of their blind trust, and (c) that the price Mr. Palmer paid was well above the market price. All these assumptions, especially (b), seem exceedingly unlikely. The Dole campaign and Mr. Owen have denied that the senator or his wife had any knowledge of the dealings of the blind trust.
Mr. Dole's political rival George Bush helped publicize the details of this case. But if anyone wants to charge wrongdoing, he should be prepared to charge that the Doles are lying about the blindness of the trust. We haven't heard anyone charge that.