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Democratic chief charges Ashcroft with conflict of interest

September 13, 2000
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Democratic Party's chief has filed a formal ethics complaint against Sen. John Ashcroft charging he violated U.S. Senate rules by sponsoring legislation that could benefit him financially.

Roy Temple sent the Senate's Ethics Committee a sworn statement Monday saying Ashcroft's co-sponsorhip of a telecommunications bill is a conflict of interest and would clear the way for AT&T and MediaOne to merge. Ashcroft owns substantial stock in the companies.

The accusation was another round of dart-throwing in a campaign that is turning uglier and uglier.

Ashcroft's campaign spokesman said Temple's charges were merely attempts to grab media attention for Gov. Mel Carnahan, Ashcroft's opponent in the race for the Senate.

"The bill, which did not pass, was not retroactive and would have had no effect on the merger," David James, the spokesman, said. "Therefore, the whole complaint is fraudulent."

According to Ashcroft's personal financial disclosure report, his stock in AT&T and MediaOne are valued between $2,002 and $30,000. He also owns between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of stock in Icon Telecommunications.

Temple's statement alleges Ashcroft broke two rules prohibiting senators from gaining financially from legislation they usher. To break one of the rules, the senator must push the legislation for no other purpose than his financial gain.

In an interview, Temple stopped short of accusing Ashcroft of sponsoring the legislation to line his pockets.

"I don't know what his motives are, but one can easily conclude that he did," he said.

The bill would limit the Federal Communications Commission's authority to block mergers. Currently, it rests half-dead in the Senate Commerce Committee.

Temple said he doesn't expect the Ethics Committee, which is chaired by a Republican, to acknowledge the statement.

Separately, the American Civil Liberties Union has begun a $200,000 ad campaign -- the group's first ever paid TV campaign -- designed to raise awareness of racial profiling.

The ads, running in Michigan, Utah and Missouri, don't mention Ashcroft's name, but he is the implied target. The group has issued news releases urging the senator to act on a bill sitting in his Consititution subcommittee.

Jennifer Helburn, spokesperson for the ACLU, said Ashcroft got good press when he presided over racial profiling hearings in the committee last March. But since, she said, he hasn't followed through on his strong statements there.

"Ashcroft has a pivotal role in whether Congress takes a stand and says racial profiling is wrong," she said.

During the hearing, according to a copy of his statement provided by the ACLU, the senator pledged to give the bill his full support if certain changes were made. The ACLU contends the changes were made and Ashcroft continues to sit on the legislation.

This year Missouri passed a racial profiling bill that, among other things, requires police to collect data on the race and circumstances surrounding traffic stops. Helburn said the bill before Congress would provide local police in Missouri money to collect the data.

The placement of ads in Missouri and Michigan has been a target of Republican questions as Republican senators there face tough re-election campaigns. Both races are among "the first-tier" of important races the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is pursuing, according to DSCC spokesman David DiMartino.

Helburn denied that the ads are related to the campaign, pointing to their run in Utah where GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch is not up for re-election.