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Trouble For Clark Campaign

The presidential campaign of retired Gen. Wesley Clark, slowing somewhat after a promising start, lost its director this week and may have violated federal law last month, a newspaper reports.

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.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports campaign finance experts say Clark may have violated campaign finance laws when he discussed his campaign during paid appearances on several college campuses after he entered the race last month.

According to the newspaper, the former NATO Supreme Commander received up to $30,000 for the speeches at DePauw University and other schools. Federal Election Commission has ruled in the past that those payments are like campaign contributions.

Federal law limits individual contributions to presidential campaign to $2,000.

The Clark campaign tells the Post that Clark's speeches were legal 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 FEC has not announced any investigation. Clark is scheduled for two more appearances next week.

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.

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 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."

In a brief statement, Clark campaign chairman Eli Segal said of Fowler: "He has done an outstanding job of getting our campaign off the ground. ... General Clark and all of us at the campaign are grateful for his efforts. We wish Donnie well and hope we will find ways to work together as we move forward."

Fowler, involved in his fifth presidential campaign, ran Al Gore's field operation in 2000. He is one of several veterans of the Clinton-Gore political campaigns involved in Clark's bid. They include Segal, communications adviser Mark Fabiani, policy adviser Ron Klain and adviser Mickey Kantor.

Segal moved to Arkansas this week, giving him more hands-on control of the campaign. In addition, Clark adviser Dick Sklar has taken on more authority in recent days. Campaign officials said the moves may have been a source of some friction with Fowler.

Fowler has complained that while the Internet-based draft-Clark supporters have been integrated into the campaign, their views are not taken seriously by senior advisers, many of them with deep Washington ties. He has warned Clark's team that the campaign is being driven from Washington, a charge leveled against Gore's campaign in 2000 even though it was headquartered in Tennessee, associates said.

Fowler's associates said the campaign is planning to open a Washington office to develop policy and oversee relations with Congress, a move that raised concerns among some draft-Clark backers who want the campaign based in Arkansas.

Fowler, son of former Democratic Party chairman Don Fowler, was quietly installed as manager of the campaign in the first days of the bid.

Fowler's departure is the latest blow for a campaign that 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.

Clark voted for former Presidents Reagan and Nixon, praised both Bush administrations and had not registered to vote as a Democrat in his home state of Arkansas before entering the race. The high number of Clinton-Gore officials on his campaign, including Arkansan Bruce Lindsey, has caused Clark's rivals to question whether the former president is quietly pushing Clark's campaign, a charge strongly disputed by the candidate and Clinton's associates.

Fowler told associates he won't work for any of Clark's rivals. Aides for at least two of Clark's opponents said they tried to contact Fowler Tuesday night to see if he was available.