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9 October 1998

Smile-a-while: The Hill gets it right

Synopsis: : Only the little, hard-scrabble, weekly The Hill got the story on Reno’s probe halfway right.

Redialing the telephone inquiry on Gore
Kenneth A. Gross, The Hill, 9/9/98

No, The Hill didn’t get the Gore story totally right, in this column by “Lobbying and the law” columnist Ken Gross; but compared to the big, major, national newspapers, The Hill knocked it out of the ballpark. We came to this column after shaking our heads at the conceptual errors in the big major papers, and, as we read through Gross’ piece, we couldn’t help chuckling as the hardscrabble rag put the work of the big kids to rout.

Yep--after all the misinfo we’d waded through elsewhere, when we finally found our way home to The Hill, well, it pretty much made our heart sing:

GROSS (paragraph 5): There are now new revelations which have prompted Reno to reopen the case. For example, the Department of Justice discovered a memo on which a Gore staffer hand wrote during a fundraising meeting with Gore “65 percent soft/35 percent hard.”

(Paragraph 6) This, however, says nothing about the nature of the money being raised by the vice president. Rather, it is a standard allocation required under federal election law as to how the DNC may spend its money on certain generic party activities, such as for party ads.

To begin with, Gross realized that the numbers seemed to come from the FEC guidelines (only the Post among the majors noted that). Beyond that, he understood the fact (paragraph 6, sentence 1) that even if Gore had been briefed on these guidelines, that wouldn’t mean he was raising hard money. Gore could have solicited soft money only, which could have paid for 35% of the ads. The rest of the money would have to come from other accounts--hard money accounts, raised somewhere else.

Among the majors, only the Wall Street Journal saw that. Gross just explained it straight out:

GROSS (paragraph 8): So even if Gore read this [65/35] note and understood it, he would have no reason to question his belief that he was raising soft money only.

There! Now what was so hard about that?

Gross also noticed that, in the 65/35 notation, Strauss had the numbers from the FEC guidelines transposed. That was the fact about the FEC guidelines that the Post had failed to note.

There is one problem. Although Gross understands the first Strauss notation, he fails to consider the second Strauss note. Like Cloud and Kuntz at the Journal, he doesn’t consider this note at all, and fails to see its possible significance.

But hey, let’s not get greedy. A little hardscrabble weekly had somehow observed that the first note referred to the FEC rules. It saw that Strauss had the guidelines inverted. It had understood that, if Gore was briefed on the FEC guidelines, that wouldn’t mean that he was raising hard money. Essentially, none of the majors figured any of this out. Here’s our question in closing: Why not?