His and Hers

A sweetheart deal on the importation of Chinese cotton towels is worth millions to the wife of White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.

THE DIANAMANIA WHICH for days chased most real news from the tube was a boon to Al Gore, for it kept the full glare of public attention from the latest revelations of his malfeasances. For months Gore has been trying to sidestep the charge of making illegal fundraising calls from his White House office by claiming there was "no controlling legal authority" forbidding the solicitation of soft money from government premises.

But on the day before Di and her billionaire boyfriend had their smashup, a Bob Woodward front-pager in the Washington Post unearthed the fact that a sizable chunk of the dough raised by Gore had been nefariously assigned to hard-money accounts and was thus channeled directly to Democratic candidates' campaign activities. This is an indisputable violation not only of the Hatch Act but of existing federal statutes governing campaign financing. Even the New York Times, which twice supported the Clinton/Gore ticket, ran an unusually strong editorial asserting that Gore "appears to have broken the law."

It now is clear that Gore has been telling lies all along. Having first claimed that his fundraising was limited to "a few occasional calls," the vice president--faced with documentary evidence unearthed by congressional investigators--has been forced to admit to 86 calls in which he used his office to put the arm on fat cats. Furthermore, the Senate campaign-finance investigation last week produced a raft of documents showing that the event at a Los Angeles Buddhist temple that produced $100,000 in laundered money for the Clinton/Gore campaign--and which Gore has always claimed he thought was a "community outreach" event--was indeed designed by his staff as a fundraiser, and a memo from Gore himself to his underlings even referred to it as such.

Further evidence of the administration's moral rot came in last Friday's Wall Street Journal, in which Paul Gigot dissected a blatant conflict of interest involving White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. Bowles's wife, Crandall Close Bowles, is the president and chief executive officer of Springs Industries, a $2.2 billion textile giant in South Carolina of which the Close family owns some 45 percent. China is a huge exporter of textiles and textile products, including towels. Springs Industries, through a subsidiary run directly by Mrs. Bowles, sells some $200 million worth of towels annually.

In the February U.S.-China trade pact on textiles, the cobbling together of which the Journal described as "a lobbying free-for-all," quotas for importation of cotton towels, the kind made by Mrs. Bowles's company, were slashed by a whopping 36 percent while quotas on 50-odd other items were reduced by only 2.6 percent. Yanking some 9 million cheap Chinese towels from a highly competitive market was enormously beneficial to Springs and other U.S. towel makers.

As the Journal pointed out, "Rita Hayes, the chief U.S. textile negotiator, is a South Carolinian who's known Springs executives for years. The main Springs lobbyist, Susan Lord, was one of several industry types who joined Mrs. Hayes on the China textile trip that closed the deal in February." Hayes got a nice payoff for so assiduously looking after Mrs. Bowles's towel business--a promotion to be U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization. But this kind of big-money favoritism stinks to high heaven, and the sweetheart towel deal will undoubtedly come up when the Senate considers Hayes's confirmation.

Finally, one cannot review the week's political doings without taking note of the decapitation of The New Republic's editor, Michael Kelly. Under Kelly, the magazine was shedding its soporific Bubbaphilia, most notably by getting rid of its chief political writer, Clinton/Gore shill Sidney Blumenthal, who has recently been given a job on the White House staff. Now Kelly himself has been fired by the magazine's wealthy owner, neo-lib Martin Peretz, who is Al Gore's former professor and an important Gore adviser, speechwriter, and fundraiser.

Kelly had made the magazine once again a must-read, and in his weekly column had proved himself one of the toughest non-Republican critics of the administration's immersion in the care and feeding of special interests and big money. It was for this thought crime that Peretz, by his own admission, removed Kelly. The New Republic will now become a journal de combat in the service of Gore 2000, and the Beltway mediocracy will be the poorer for the loss of Kelly's acerbic chronicles.

 
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