The Multinational Monitor

May 1997 · VOLUME 18 · NUMBER 5

T H E I R    M A S T E R S '    V O I C E

A Gory Story

THE MEDIA APPEARS to be in a state of shock over revelations that Al Gore was a major player in the unfolding Democratic Party campaign finance scandal, doing everything from shaking down Buddhist monks to using a credit card to make calls to potential donors from the White House. As Dan Balz of The Washington Post put it, "Gore has long been called the Boy Scout of the Clinton administration, a politician of such integrity and personal probity that even Clinton has complained about the vice president's glowing press." But Gore has never been a political Boy Scout, least of all when it comes to campaign finance. Between 1987 and 1992, he raised almost $2.5 million as a senator from Tennessee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Gore oversaw the telecommunications sector from his perch on the Senate Commerce Committee and raised nearly 10 percent of that $2.5 million from the communications barons. Today, the Veep commands a fundraising network that is among the most sophisticated in town, and one already being tooled up for his planned presidential bid in the year 2000.

One of Gore's closest allies is Dan Dutko, head of The Dutko Group, a major Beltway lobby shop that specializes in representing telecommunications companies. Examining Gore's relationship with Dutko, and with his other top fundraisers, provides a revealing look at an issue at the heart of the Donorgate scandal: the way in which lobbyists, consultants, fundraisers and other political fixers are able to win access to lawmakers and reap financial benefits for their business clientele.

Dutko has been an intimate of Gore's since the mid-1980s and has become one of his shrewdest fund-raisers. Last year, Dutko was named national finance vice chairman of the Clinton/Gore re-election campaign, as well as to the Democratic National Committee's (DNC's) Financial Advisory Board, a group charged with prodding donors into doling out $350,000 or more. Dutko recently was put in charge of the Democrats' "Victory" fund, which will raise money for the 1998 off-year elections.

When not drumming up cash for Gore and the Democrats, Dutko tends to matters at his lobbying outfit, one of the most powerful in Washington. Its clients include telecommunications firms such as COMSAT, the Competitive Telecommunications Association, DSC Communications Corporation, National Cellular Resellers Association and the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association. The Dutko Group also represents the Alliance for GATT, Citgo Petroleum and the American Plastics Council.

Dutko is a staunch Democrat, as is his company's vice president, Mark Irion, a former staffer to ex-Senator Alan Dixon of Illinois. But, like many Washington lobby shops, The Dutko Group has been careful to cover all the bases. Its top officers include Kevin Tally, former chief of staff and campaign director to Representative William Goodling, R-Pennsylvania, chair of the House Committee on Education and the Work Force; Ronald Kaufman, a deputy assistant to the President under George Bush; and Gary Andres, another former Bush staffer.

Thanks to his links to the Clinton administration, Dutko tends to be in the right place at the right time. He was one of 831 guests who stayed overnight at the Lincoln Bedroom during Clinton's first term. He attended at least two of the infamous White House coffee klatsches. Irion was also an invitee, attending a coffee hosted by Gore in November of 1995. That event was for members of the Democratic National Committee's Environmental Leadership Council, though The Dutko Group's interest in ecology does not appear to extend beyond its representation of a firm called Empire Sanitary Landfill, Inc.

Dutko spends little time lobbying members of Congress, instead exploiting his access to broker meetings between his clients and administration officials, opening doors at government agencies and otherwise serving as a high-level political fixer.

Take Dutko's work for DSC, a Texas-based phone switching and computer equipment manufacturer. Two years ago, DSC was battling with several foreign competitors to win a $36 million deal with Telmex, Mexico's state-run telecommunications company. The company faced serious obstacles to obtaining the contract, especially as one of its chief rivals, Alcatel of France, owns a 5 percent share of Telmex and was considered to have the inside track.

DSC asked Dutko for help, according to an account in The Washington Post, and the lobbyist put the company in touch with officials at the Commerce Department. Soon, then-Commerce Secretary Ron Brown was on the job for DSC, writing and calling Telmex chieftain Jaime Chico Pardo to press the firm's case. In early June 1995, DSC announced that it had won the contract; weeks later it sent a $25,000 donation to the Democrats. At Dutko's suggestion, DSC sent an additional $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee last year, a gesture which earned the firm's CEO, James Donald, a thank-you call from Dutko's friend Al Gore.

The Dutko Group's other clients have also done well during the Clinton/Gore years. One big winner was AT&T Wireless, the cellular phone division of its well known corporate parent. Shortly before Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, AT&T's lobbyists inserted a clause that freed the company to merge its cellular and long-distance operations, and to automatically assign AT&T as the long-distance carrier for its cellular phone customers. The Justice Department had ordered the company to do precisely the opposite when, in 1995, it allowed AT&T to buy McCaw Cellular Communications, Inc. AT&T Wireless paid The Dutko Group $260,000 for its efforts last year, a fair amount but relative chump change considering that the bill clearly provides the company with an enormous pay-off.

Dutko did not return calls seeking comment. -- Ken Silverstein

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