Republican presidential candidate George Bush yesterday insisted he had reported $106,000 in campaign contributions he received from an illegal White House slush fund during his unsuccessful 1970 Senate campaign.
"I have prided myself of being meticulous about reporting campaign contributions and I have absolutely no problems with my conscience," Bush told reporters yesterday morning. "We ran a clean and honorable campaign and as far as I know all the reporting was accurate."
Bush insisted at the breakfast meeting and later in a series of stops in New Hampshire that the receipt of money from what came to be called the "Townhouse Operation" had been thoroughly investigated by Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski and the Senate Armed Services Committee before he was confirmed as CIA director.
"The answer came back clean, clean, clean," Bush told a student audience in Hampton, N.H. "Let them investigate it again because the answer will come back again -- clean, clean, clean."
Questions about the fund have plagued Bush for a decade and surfaced when Gerald R. Ford considered appointing him vice president in 1974 and nominated him to head the CIA in 1975.
The Los Angeles Times resurrected the case in a lengthy, front-page story in its Thursday editions which was reprinted in other newspapers. The Boston Globe played the story on its front pages.
The story, based on documents that have been in the public record in the National Archives for two years, said that Bush had concealed receiving $55,000 in cash from the Townhouse fund.
Bush vehemently denied the allegation. "I did not receive any money from an illegal fund," he declared yesterday. "I did receive money and the money I received was reported."
The Townhouse Operation was a secret, $3 million slush fund set up by the Nixon White House to funnel money into Republican campaigns around the country. Herbert W. Kalmbach, Nixon's personal lawyer was its chief fund-raiser.
Kalmbach, former White House aide Harry Dent, who is now Bush's campaign chairman in South Carolina, and Jack A. Gleason, who ran the fund out of a fashionable townhouse in downtown Washington, later pleaded guilty to election finance violations for their part in the operation.
The Senate Armed Service Committee and the Watergate special prosecutor's office both looked into Bush's connection with the fund. Jaworski, who has endorsed Bush's presidential bid, has said his investigation found "no involvement" by Bush in any illegal fund-raising activities.
Bush has never given a full public accounting of the receipt or expenditure of a large portion of the $106,000 he received. He supplied no new details yesterday.
Campaign reporting laws were much looser in 1970 than they are today -- a factor Bush used in his defense. "I just don't think we did anything wrong," he said in Washington.
Bush was defeated by Democrat Lloyd Bentsen for the Texas Senate seat in 1970. Bush campaign manager James Baker said the campaign was financed through a series of committees that enabled many big givers to break up their contributions in order to avoid gift taxes on donations above $3,000.
Baker, in a prepared statement called the Los Angeles Times report "a rehash of stories" that have appeared in major newspapers and news-magazines.
"Campaign laws in 1970 were far different than federal and state laws enacted in response to abuses which occurred in the presidential election of 1972," Baker said.