Friday, July 24, 1998
Section: NEWS
By Tim Poor
Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon returned $2,000 from Thomas Strong, a lawyer from Springfield, Mo., whom he chose to pursue the state's suit against tobacco companies, campaign records show. But Nixon has kept thousands more given by Strong's wife and other lawyers in Strong's firm, the records show.

Nixon's campaign returned the money to Strong on June 25, less than a week before Nixon selected him to head the litigation, according to reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission.

But the reports also show a $2,000 contribution May 19 from Strong's wife, Wilma Strong. Previous reports show donations of $8,000 from four other lawyers in Strong's firm.

The contributions were criticized by David Israelite, campaign manager for Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., Nixon's likely opponent in the U.S. Senate race for Missouri.

Israelite noted that Nixon had criticized former Attorney General William Webster for taking contributions from lawyers whom Webster had hired to defend the state's Second Injury Fund, which pays benefits to people with job-related injuries that are aggravated by a previous injury.

"Now he's farming out the tobacco litigation and taking contributions from lawyers doing the work," Israelite said. "They all financially benefit from the work Mr. Nixon has given Mr. Strong."

Chuck Hatfield, Nixon's campaign manager, said there was nothing wrong with keeping the contributions.

"The contract is with Mr. Strong, not his wife . . . not his law firm," Hatfield said. "I don't think it's a conflict."

Hatfield said that if the tobacco litigation is settled this year, Strong and the lawyers Strong hires would get $250 an hour for the time they spend on the case. He added that the litigation is going forward becau se the Senate refused to enact legislation to settle it.

"The attorney general would not have had to hire any lawyers if Kit Bond had done what he said he was going to do and voted for the McCain tobacco bill," Hatfield said.

Strong has hosted Nixon campaign events and was among six trial lawyers who co-signed a fund-raising letter for Nixon that was sent June 19 to lawyers around the state. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

As in previous campaign reports, lawyers from Missouri and around the nation constitute a large portion of Nixon's contributors. Others included Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who gave $2,000, and Christie Hefner, the chief executive officer of Playboy Inc.

St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon's campaign committee contributed $100, which represented a ticket to a fund-raiser.

Nixon's biggest contributions from political action committees came from labor. The AFL-CIO's PAC and the Office and Professional Employees union each contributed $5,000.

An large number of contributors on the reports - including Wilma Strong - did not list their occupations or employers.

Hatfield said the campaign follows federal guidelines that require campaigns to write letters in an attempt to get the information. He said amendments would be filed later when the occupations of contributors are identified.

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