The Teamsters, the DNC and the reformers

Posted: Jan 31, 2001 12:00 AM
Sen. John McCain and Senate Democrats are all hot to trot over the prospect of finally enacting "meaningful" campaign finance reform legislation. The "reformers'" zeal would be easier to understand if they were similarly exercised over violations of existing laws. Two items currently in the news may just give us an indication of how committed to reform some of the reformers are. Last week, a federal grand jury indicted former Teamster President Ron Carey on various charges centered on his alleged involvement in (and statements about) illegal fund-raising activities connected to his 1996 re-election campaign for presidency of the union. This week, Clinton friend and fund-raiser extraordinaire, Terry McAuliffe, will probably be elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee. What do these two stories have to do with each other, you ask? Quite a bit, actually. There is strong evidence to suggest that Democratic fund-raisers masterminded much of the illegal campaign activity of the Teamsters. If Democrats were truly interested in reform, they would think long and hard before installing Clinton confidante McAuliffe to their top fund-raising post. I'm not alleging that McAuliffe engaged in criminal activity; I don't know. His lawyer says that McAuliffe has been assured that he is not a target of the government's investigation. But, as U.S. News & World Report notes, "there's no way prosecutors can lay out the Teamsters' tangled money mess without referring to the troubled 1996 Democratic fundraising machine." The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee investigating the campaign finance scandal reported that labor unions and their political action committees spent more than $119 million during the 1996 election cycle on political contributions. This was made possible only by an aggressive, coordinated effort by the White House, the Clinton-Gore campaign and the DNC to entice labor to contribute unprecedented sums. Let me explain: The Teamsters supplied vast sums of money (and manpower) to Democrats in 1992, but the union's internal problems began to drain its resources following the 1992 election. In 1995, as the Clinton-Gore campaign was gearing up for the 1996 election, the White House began to devise ways to reinvigorate the Teamsters' enthusiasm for the Clinton-Gore re-election effort. One White House document, entitled "Teamster Notes," detailed a not-so-subtle strategy to trade policy promises for union dollars. According to the document, "It is in our best interest to develop a better relationship with Carey. ... Carey is not a schmoozer -- he wants results on issues he cares about. The Diamond Walnut strike and the organizing effort at Pony Express are two of Carey's biggest problems. We should assist in any way possible." Reportedly, the White House did take action to assist, and it paid off. William Hamilton, the Teamsters' government affairs director, in a March 14, 1996, memo, acknowledged Clinton's hands-on policy assistance on countless issues and recommended the Teamsters endorse Clinton. "It's also a fact," wrote Hamilton, "that we ask for and get, on almost a daily basis, help from the Clinton administration for one thing or another. But let's understand each other. We need Bill Clinton, and Bill Clinton needs us. Every day we get help in small ways from Bill Clinton -- he makes a phone call, he uses the veto threat, he makes an appointment. ..." Rekindling the Teamsters' loyalty was only half the battle. The DNC still had to conceive of a plan to free up additional Teamsters' money and resources. No problem. The DNC would arrange for a quid pro quo with the Teamsters. They would each indirectly funnel money to the other in what the Senate committee referred to as a "contribution-swap scheme." The DNC would arrange for a $100,000 illegal foreign donation to Carey's re-election campaign, and in return, the Teamsters would direct $1 million to state Democratic parties. Ultimately, these activities resulted in criminal convictions for three of Carey's top campaign aides who entered guilty pleas in September 1997 to criminal fraud and conspiracy charges. In 1999, William Hamilton was also convicted for his involvement. Witnesses at Hamilton's trial reportedly implicated McAuliffe in the scheme. Now that Ron Carey has been indicted, Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House subcommittee that investigated Carey's fund-raising, is suggesting that it's time for McAuliffe to come forward with an explanation of his role in these sordid events. Will the "reformers" go ahead and install McAuliffe, or will they demand some answers?