Sen. Mike Gravel, locked in a tight race for renomination in Tuesday's Democratic primary here, has accused his opponent of receiving campaign contributions from a "special interest group" -- Jews.
The two-term Alaska Democrat claims his chief challenger, Anchorage lawyer Clark Gruening, broke a pledge not to accept money from special interest groups by soliciting donations from individual Jewish contributors living outside the state.
"There's no question [the money] is from a special interest group . . . that seeks to influence the foreign policy of the U.S.," Gravel said.
Gravel does not object to special interest political donations. Political action committee (PAC) contributions make up more than $230,000 of the $540,000 Gravel has reported spending in the campaign so far. But Gravel claims the questioned donations show Gruening, grandson of the man Gravel beat 12 years ago, has been "dishonest."
Gruening, a 34-year-old former state legislator, says the accusation is "bordering on outright slander." All 1,600 contributions, totaling about $230,000 reported by Gruening, have come from individuals, three out of four of them living within Alaska.
"Not a penny has come from special interest groups," Gruening said at a press conference here Friday. "Undoubtedly some Jewish individuals contributed . . . so did Protestants."
One contributor was Barney Gottstein, an Anchorage businessman and former Democratic national committeeman for Alaska, who once acted as a fund-raiser for Gravel. Gottstein parted ways with Gravel following the senator's vote in favor of a 1978 sale of military aircraft to Egypt.
Gottstein admits mailing to potential contributors a Middle East position paper written by Gruening. He also has formed a political action committee, "Friends of Alaska," which has sponsored advertisements critical of Gravel, including his handling of the Alaska Lands bill passed last week by the Senate.
The measure would put more than 56 million acres of virgin Alaska mountain range and wildlife sanctuaries under total wilderness protection, prohibiting mineral or any other kind of development. Approximately another 49 million acres would receive varying, lesser degrees of protection that would allow some oil and gas exploration, mining and timber-cutting.
The House has passed a bill more to environmentalists' liking, but now is being urged to accept the Senate version. Gravel opposes both measures and has pledged to filibuster any conference report.
Gravel says he opposes the measure because it would inhibit the state's development.
Gruening says passage of the bill is necessary to reverse the more restrictive national monument designation proposed by President Carter in 1978 after Gravel succeeded in killing an earlier version of the lands bill.
Until the campaign money issue arose last week, the lands bill -- and Gravel's unsuccessful effort to block it -- dominated debate in a race in which the incumbent's early lead appeared to have evaporated. In his first bid for state wide office, independent polls show Gruening is an even bet to upset Gravel.
In the five-way race in the Rupublican primary also to be held Tuesday, Fairbanks banker Frank Murkowski is a heavy favorite. Rep. Don Young (R.-Alaska) is unopposed in the primary.