Al Gore spent Monday in New
York City basking in the support of the labor unions that have
given him most of his victory margins over Bill Bradley. The New
York AFL-CIO distributed a million pro-Gore leaflets during his
visit. The history of and substance of Mr. Gore's ties to these
unions, or at least their leaders, is a subject that ought to
be of more than passing interest.
CNN reported that
Mr. Gore got his biggest New York welcome at the offices of District
Council 37 of AFSCME, the union for state, county and municipal
workers. The widespread corruption at District Council 37 has
been one of the biggest labor stories to hit New York in years.
More than two dozen officials have been indicted on charges of
corruption, including $2.2 million in member dues stolen by a
single local president.
On his visit, Mr. Gore was
joined by AFSCME national president Gerald McEntee; the national
office recently submitted $4.6 million in claims to its insurance
company, part of the union's request that it be reimbursed for
fraud by 35 AFSCME officials nationwide. "Clearly something
has happened to this union in the past five years," Carl
Biers of the Association for Union Democracy, a pro-labor watchdog
group, told the New York Times. "Whatever McEntee's strengths
are, he has been turning a blind eye to a lot of this." But
no blinder than that of the Vice President of the United States.
In 1997 Mr. McEntee admitted
to Judge Kenneth Conboy, a federal election monitor, that he had
passed $20,000 in cash from a union vendor to the campaign of
then-Teamster President Ron Carey. The money was part of an illegal
swap scheme in which Carey aides approved $885,000 in contributions
to the Clinton-Gore campaign in exchange for help for the Carey
campaign. After much delay, Mr. Carey was ousted from office.
Despite his own admission, Mr. McEntee appears to be in no legal
jeopardy from a Justice Department that has consistently declined
to prosecute up the food chain of the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign
Another key Gore political
supporter who has campaigned with the vice president this year
is Richard Trumka, the No. 2 official in the entire AFL-CIO. Mr.
Trumka has twice taken the Fifth Amendment over his role in personally
turning over election funds to the Teamsters. He remains in office
only because AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has ignored a 40-year
old AFL-CIO rule calling for the removal of union officials taking
the Fifth in corruption cases.
Mr. Gore is looking pretty
smug and confident these days, so he'd likely just smirk at any
criticism of his union associations. But back in 1986 a federal
commission on union corruption faulted the Reagan Administration
for its extensive political contacts with the Teamsters, then
headed by the late Jackie Presser.
President Reagan and Vice President
Bush had met with Mr. Presser while he was under federal investigation.
The panel headed by Judge Irving Kaufman warned that "the
impact of such contacts can lead to an erosion of public confidence
and dampen the desire to end racketeering." The panel's report
noted that Mr. Presser had invoked the Fifth Amendment in refusing
to answer questions and warned the Reagan Administration that
"certain political alliances and well timed political contributions
can create an appearance of impropriety."
The Reno Justice Department,
however, has just dropped its oversight of the Laborers Union,
which was led until last month by Clinton crony Arthur Coia. A
1994 RICO complaint by Justice tied Mr. Coia to organized crime
and said he used "force, violence and fear of physical and
economic injury to create a climate of intimidation and fear"
within his union. Two days before the RICO complaint was sent
to Mr. Coia, he had accompanied the President to Rhode Island
and presented him with a personal golf club. Mr. Clinton had given
one to Mr. Coia a week earlier.
His intermediary to President
Clinton was Harold Ickes, the then-deputy White House chief of
staff, who as a lawyer had represented the Laborers Union. Hillary
Clinton later addressed Mr. Coia's union conference in Florida,
despite being warned by an aide about his background. Justice
originally had insisted Mr. Coia resign as part of any RICO settlement.
Four days after Mrs. Clinton's speech to the Laborers, Justice
agreed to a consent decree that allowed Mr. Coia to stay and take
charge of cleaning up his own union.
In 1997, former federal prosecutor
Robert Luskin was asked to pursue allegations that Mr. Coia still
had ties to organized crime. Sixteen charges were filed; all but
one were overturned by a hearing officer who cited insufficient
evidence to prove them. The remaining charge was serious enough:
that Mr. Coia hadn't paid some $100,000 in taxes to Rhode Island
on the purchase of three Ferrari sports cars.
Mr. Coia has now agreed with
the Justice Department to resign as president in exchange for
a guilty plea and a wrist slap of two years' probation and a $10,000
fine. He has to repay the back taxes, but with no interest or
penalty charges. He'll also retain the post of "general president
emeritus" of the Laborers Union at an annual salary of $335,000
a year for life. Justice officials did not respond to questions
about this unusual provision. Union members have told the Providence
Journal-Bulletin they're disgusted with it.
"Organized labor is very important in the primaries," Mr. Gore said this week at the AFSCME rally. We guess so. But just maybe, that off-odor smell in the air is the Sleaze Factor, bubbling back to the surface of this campaign for the Presidency.