Al Gore is challenging a pharmaceutical industry-backed group critical of his Medicare prescription drug plan to make public its list of donors.
"The American people deserve to know who exactly is trying to influence this critical issue," Gore says in a letter to leaders of a group called Citizens for Better Medicare.
In his letter, Gore decried the "unlimited secret amount of money" flowing to special interest groups seeking to sway the debate on critical issues.
Gore has clashed with Citizens for Better Medicare, which has attacked his plans to expand Medicare by adding a prescription drug benefit.
Congress recently approved and President Clinton signed a change in campaign finance law designed to prevent some politically active issue advocacy groups from keeping their lists of contributors secret.
The change would affect Citizens for Better Medicare, which has run millions of dollars in television commercials attacking plans to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The Clinton administration has proposed a Medicare drug plan, and Gore has made a similar proposal an important part of his campaign.
Gore, accusing drug companies of "price gouging," says the industry is attacking his Medicare plan in order to protect rapidly growing profits.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is a backer of Citizens for Better Medicare. In its TV ads, the group argues against imposing any Canadian-style government price controls on prescription drugs in this country, saying research funds would dry up as a result.
Congressional Republicans, who favor a prescription drug benefit plan operated through private insurance companies, also argue that the Democratic proposals would create a big-government drug program.
Gore argues that rival George W. Bush is a tool of rich drug makers, while the vice president claims he's seeking to aid struggling working families.
In his letter, which he plans to make public at a campaign stop in Pennsylvania, Gore said the recent congressional action on secret donations did not require that past donor lists be made public.
"The donors who have already funneled millions to front special interest groups can remain safely hidden," Gore said.
"I call on your organization to reveal the sources of your million-dollar campaign so Americans can understand the real voices in this critical debate, not special interest cloaked in secrecy. It is already clear that the real faces behind Citizens for Better Medicare are not those of America's elderly," declared the vice president.
Gore's campaign argues that Citizens for Better Medicare has spent up to $30 million on television spots attacking the prescription drug benefit, and could spend as much as $65 million.
Among its arguments, the group says expanding Medicare to include prescription drugs is an expensive new program that threatens the financial health of th Medicare system, an allegation Gore rejects.
Under Gore's plan, the government would pay half the annual costs of a Medicare recipient's drugs up to $5,000. Aides said it would extend coverage to 40 million people at a cost of $255 billion over 10 years.