Arlen Specter's friends

Posted: Apr 19, 2004 12:00 AM

 WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush's journey to Pittsburgh Monday to stand with Sen. Arlen Specter in the political battle of his life puts the president in unusual company. Specter's supporters, as he faces conservative Rep. Pat Toomey's challenge in the April 27 Pennsylvania Republican primary, have included George Soros, Harold Ickes Jr., Ron Carey, Arthur Coia, Richard Ben-Veniste, Alan Dershowitz, Barbara Kennelly and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

 That's a left-wing all-star team, validating Specter's long career as a political broken-field runner. He will become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee next year as a Republican in good standing who is also a favorite senator in liberal-labor circles. When organized labor has needed a vote, Specter has been there, explaining why many of Bush's enemies are Specter's friends.

 Why then has President Bush not only endorsed Specter but gone to Pennsylvania to campaign for him? While Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 blundered when he tried to purge anti-New Deal members of Congress, Bush backs any lawmaker with an "R" beside his name. Simultaneously, Democratic activists and financial contributors support Specter despite his party designation.

 Heading the list is billionaire investor George Soros, who so far has spent $15.5 million to defeat George W. Bush. Soros has plenty left for Specter, contributing $50,000 to the Republican Mainstream Partnership as part of its earmarked $200,000 against Toomey. In the 1998 election cycle, Soros and his wife gave Specter the $4,000 legal maximum.

 With a Republican primary approaching, Specter does not want public association with Bush-bashers. When Rush Limbaugh reported the Soros contribution on his radio program, Specter telephoned the conservative talker last Wednesday to stress that he is "very, very strongly supporting" Bush. The senator said he has "nothing to do" with the Republican Mainstream Partnership or Soros's donation, though he is listed on the organization's Web site as a member.

 There are many other sources of Specter support who despise Bush:

 -- The fire fighters union contributed $2,500 to Specter last September, the same month in which it became the first labor union to endorse Kerry for president. Specter has received contributions from two big left-leaning unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and the Pennsylvania State Education Association also have endorsed him.

 -- In the last election cycle, Specter was given $10,000 by the Teamsters under the leadership of Ron Carey (whose election to the presidency was voided by court order). He received $8,000 from the Laborers Union under President Arthur Coia, who then was under investigation for ties with organized crime and later was barred from active union leadership.

 -- The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, headed by Democratic former Rep. Barbara Kennelly of Connecticut, gave Specter $1,000 last fall. The organization fights Bush's plan for private investment accounts.

 -- Harvard Law Prof. Alan Dershowitz, a fierce critic of the way Bush was elected, has contributed to Specter in the current and previous election cycles.

 -- Harold Ickes Jr., the former Clinton White House aide who runs the Media Fund putting anti-Bush advertising on television, gave Specter $1,000 last year.

 -- Richard Ben-Veniste, the high-powered Washington lawyer serving on the independent 9/11 Commission, is a Specter backer. He contributed to Specter in 1997 when Ben-Veniste was representing Terry McAuliffe, now the Democratic national chairman, in connection with the Teamsters scandal. Ben-Veniste is generous to Democrats, but Specter is the only Republican on record as being helped by him.

 "Arlen is with us on votes that matter," conservative Sen. Rick Santorum, the other Pennsylvania senator, says in a television ad for Specter. Specter did vigorously support Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's confirmation. But he was not "with us" in opposing Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, in failing to support the full Bush tax cut and in voting against President Bill Clinton's removal from office.

 Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a leader in establishing a liberal litmus test on judicial opponents, last year wrote Bush listing Specter among desirable Supreme Court nominees. If the president can accept George Soros's choice for the Senate, could he go along with Chuck Schumer's suggestion for the Supreme Court?