Wall Street Journal

Gore's Guys


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.

Dues paid

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 scandals.

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.


Return to Laborers.org

(c) All orginal work Copyright Laborers.org 1998. All rights reserved..