Clark Returns Speech Cash

2003/9/13 Wesley Clark headshot, former US Army General and NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, photo AP

Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark's campaign says he will return payments for speeches he made since declaring his candidacy and will no longer speak for money.

Clark spokesman Mark Fabiani issued a statement late Wednesday saying Clark's advisers reviewed federal guidelines and determined that his paid speeches were appropriate.

"Nevertheless, to avoid any distraction from the real issues that matter to Americans, General Clark has decided to return the payments from these speeches," the statement said. It did not say how much money was involved.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Clark discussed his candidacy during paid speeches on college campuses after he entered the race three weeks ago. Campaign finance laws prohibit candidates from accepting payment from corporations, labor unions, individuals or universities for campaign-related events.

Federal Election Commission spokesman Bob Biersack said it was not clear whether Clark did anything wrong. Unresolved are several questions, including whether the speeches were in connection with a federal election and who paid for them, said Biersack, who added that the commission hasn't been asked to review the matter.

Fabiani said Clark, a retired four-star Army general, has been giving paid speeches on foreign policy and leadership for the past four years. Fabiani said that since he has declared his presidential candidacy, he has fulfilled his existing obligations but accepted no additional commitments.

Before Clark made the decision, Democratic rival Joe Lieberman had said he was troubled about the speeches and said Clark should clear it up quickly.

According to the newspaper, the former NATO Supreme Commander received up to $30,000 for the speeches at DePauw University and other schools. Federal law limits individual contributions to presidential campaigns to $2,000.

The Clark campaign told the Post that Clark's speeches did not fall under FEC rules because, according to general counsel William Oldaker, he was "not attempting through those speeches to specifically…influence his election."

But those who have seen the speeches say Clark discussed his campaign and criticized President Bush. At DePauw on Sept. 23, people waved "Draft Clark" signs, the Post reports, as Clark discussed how his foreign policy would differ from the current administration's and answered question about his qualifications for the White House.

The concerns about Clark's speeches came a day after the retired general's campaign manager resigned.

Clark's campaign manager quit Tuesday in a dispute over the direction of the 3-week-old Democratic presidential bid, the latest setback for a team struggling to mesh its Internet-savvy founders with a corps of Washington insiders assuming more power.

Donnie Fowler, 35, told associates he was leaving over widespread concerns that supporters who used the Internet to draft Clark into the race are not being taken seriously by top campaign officials. Fowler also complained that the campaign's message and methods are focused too much on Washington, not key states, said two associates who spoke on condition of anonymity.

From the start, there has been tension between the Clark campaign's political professionals and the draft-Clark supporters, many of whom consider Fowler their ally.

But those concerns were played down by campaign officials, who suggested that Fowler quit after losing a power struggle. Mike Frisby, a former spokesman for DraftClark2004.com and an adviser to the Clark campaign, said the political team has made an "earnest effort" to work with draft-Clark backers.

"There's always different frictions and different tensions that take place in any campaign," Frisby said. "I don't think what's taking place is any different than what happens in any other campaign."

Clark isn't the only Democrat to have suffered organizational problems. Sen. John Kerry's communications director, Chris Lehane, resigned last month over differences in the direction of Kerry's campaign. Like Fowler, Lehane was a veteran of Clinton-Gore campaigns.

Before Florida Sen. Bob Graham left the race Monday, several key aides said they were quitting his campaign.

The Clark campaign has gotten off to mixed reviews. National polls put Clark near the top of the nine-person field and he raised more than $3 million in the first two weeks of his campaign, a sum that surpassed what several rivals raised in three months.

However, he has been criticized for flip-flopping on whether he would have supported the Iraq resolution, and his commitment to the Democratic Party has been questioned.
  • Dan Collins

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