Texan’s Tale Of Big Money Rivets Panel $55 Million Offer To Democrats Alleged At Campaign Finance Hearings

A bizarre story involving a murky Texas businessman, an offer to donate up to $55 million to the Democratic Party and an alleged request to shred a White House document unfolded Friday before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, where it was greeted with incredulity and growing hostility by most committee Democrats.

The allegations, which he made earlier to news organizations, were related by R. Warren Meddoff, who last July was fired from his job with the U.S. subsidiary of a Danish vehicle and parts supply firm.

According to Meddoff, he approached President Clinton at an October 1996 fund-raising dinner in Florida and gave him a business card with the message: “I have an associate that is interested in donating $5 million to your campaign.”

The “associate” was William R. Morgan of Richardson, Texas, a Dallas suburb. Meddoff said Morgan was also prepared to contribute another $5 million a month for 10 months to the Democratic Party in a “tax favorable” way that would eliminate any tax liability on a business deal he hoped to close around then.

Meddoff said his encounter with Clinton soon led to his being contacted by then-White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, who on Oct. 31, 1996, faxed a memo to Meddoff from the White House asking him to contribute more than $1 million to the Democratic National Committee and three other Democratic-affiliated, tax-exempt organizations. Shortly thereafter, Meddoff said, Ickes asked him to shred the memo. Ickes has denied making the shredding request.

Committee Democrats reacted to Meddoff’s charges with an attack on his credibility and by raising questions about the mysterious Morgan. But one Democrat, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, said the Ickes memo was “outrageous.”

“You’re telling a story which, if true, is hair-raising,” Lieberman said. “This is on its face possibly a violation of the law. It amounted to a conscious attempt to circumvent what people are allowed to contribute to campaigns. This document alone, whether anyone asked you to shred it or not, ought to outrage us.”

Other Democrats, however, concentrated their fire on Meddoff. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., produced a 1995 letter in which Meddoff offered to contribute $5 million to both the Democratic and Republican parties at the close of a business transaction that he said was being delayed by U.S. government employees. Accusing Meddoff of offering the contributions in return for political intervention to help close the deal, Levin said, “That comes very, very close, Mr. Meddoff, to being a kind of bribe.”

Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., produced an e-mail message that Meddoff sent earlier this month to Christian Haar, chief executive officer of Bukkehave Inc., his former employer. “Tomorrow you and your company will come under international scrutiny and scorn,” the message said. “Prepare to face the (w)rath of an entire country foreigner.”

“This appears to be an attempt at extortion of a former employer,” Torricelli told Meddoff.

Committee Democrats also questioned whether Morgan had the financial resources to make the contributions that Meddoff promised. They said Morgan, who has said he collects and sells historical bonds, operates his businesses out of his home, which he rents. According to Democratic documents, Morgan has been the subject of two federal tax liens totaling more than $26,000 and has been “repeatedly sued for failing to pay bills.”

Under questioning, Meddoff said he has been associated with Morgan for about four years, but has never met him or been paid anything by him. Instead, he said he has an arrangement to share in the proceeds of Morgan’s business deals should they come to fruition.

More recently, he added, “I made a commitment to walk away from these deals. They keep following me.”

“Have you ever seen that movie, ‘The Sting’?” Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, asked Meddoff, referring to a popular early-1970s film about an elaborate con game. “This is better than that.”

Committee Chairman Fred D. Thompson, R-Tenn., told Meddoff, “The worse it looks for you, the worse it looks for those who were dealing with you.”

“Mr. Morgan is, indeed, a bizarre and questionable individual who needs checking out,” Thompson added. “You show up out of nowhere with a card, and that sets in motion calls, apparently from Air Force One, and you’re dealing with someone at the right hand of the president. The most bizarre part is the part concerning Mr. Ickes.”

xxxx Campaign finance hearings Shifting gears Senators on the committee probing campaign finance abuses said Friday they would shift course and turn to broader issues. Since July, the committee has been investigating abuses in the last presidential campaign, including the injection of illegal foreign money into the Democratic Party and allegations that the Chinese government attempted to influence the campaign. While the committee has not tied up a number of loose ends - it has not found conclusive evidence of the Chinese connection - the senators decided to move on to the next stage: For the next three weeks, the committee will hear discussions of a number of general campaign finance topics, including the issue of “soft money” (unrestricted funds that generally go to political parties) and the influence of outside groups in the political process. The committee expects to call representatives from unions and organizations such as the Christian Coalition to testify about their role in past elections. Riveting? A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll released this week found that 77 percent of those surveyed support campaign finance reform. But the poll also found that the public has not been particularly interested in the campaign finance hearings, with only 5 percent saying they believed it was an important issue. “It’s just a mistake to think the public is riveted on this,” said Peter Hart, who conducted the poll. Bill offer called ‘sham’ The Senate’s Democratic leader, South Dakota’s Tom Daschle, rejected on Friday what he said was a “sham” offer by majority Republicans to bring a campaign finance reform bill to the floor before Congress adjourns for the year. The problem? The proposed agreement set no date for the debate, leaving open the possibility it could occur the very last day of the session. It also would have prohibited senators from using other means to get the bill to the floor.

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