Aides to Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and former Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) yesterday said that Vice President Bush should either personally pay for a controversial $75,000 poll commissioned by the Republican National Committee or set up a special presidential exploratory committee to finance it.
"George Bush is going to have to write a personal check," said David Keene, an adviser to Dole's unofficial 1988 presidential campaign. Keene's assessment was supported by James Cannon, who runs Baker's Republican Majority Fund, except that Cannon suggested Bush could set up an exploratory committee to avoid personal liability.
Bush supporters countered that the poll, which included questions evaluating Bush's chances in the 1988 presidential contest, can be paid for under a complex arrangement by three sources: the Republican National Committee; Bush's political action committee (PAC), the Fund for America's Future; and by Market Opinion Research, which conducted the survey.
"Obviously, his political opponents think George Bush is so far ahead that they are clutching at technical straws," Bush adviser Lee Atwater said. "I thought it was too early for desperation tactics, but I guess I was wrong. The fact of the matter is we are not going to do anything illegal, unethical or immoral."
On Tuesday, the RNC and Bush aides defended the survey, arguing that the RNC had commissioned a poll of perceptions of a wide range of public officials and that Bush's Fund for America's Future was given permission to "piggyback" on the poll a series of Bush-related questions to be paid for by the Bush PAC.
John Buckley, press secretary to Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), another potential presidential candidate, contended that the arrangement is "a little like a dump truck riding piggyback on a bicycle," noting that 65 of 71 pages of a copy of the poll he received dealt with Bush.
Yesterday, Bush officials added an element to their description of how the poll was designed, contending that Robert Teeter, head of Market Opinion Research, unilaterally added questions about the 1988 presidential contest without getting the approval of the Bush PAC.
Jan W. Baran, the Bush PAC's lawyer, said Teeter's firm will have to pay the cost of the questions relating to 1988 because the Fund for America's Future did not request them. Teeter said he had agreed to this arrangement.
Keene and Cannon, however, contended that for Teeter's firm to absorb the cost would violate federal election law because it would amount to an illegal corporate contribution to a presidential campaign.
Bush's Fund for America's Future cannot pay for the poll, they argued, because the poll dealt directly with Bush as a presidential candidate. The PAC is restricted by law to spending money to help other congressional candidates and is prohibited from financing a presidential bid.
In addition, Bush has not announced for president and does not have a presidential committee to pay for the poll. Cannon and Keene argued that only Bush can pay for the poll.
"I admire their imagination," Baran, the Bush PAC lawyer, said. "It's too bad they don't have all the facts."