Gore visit to DOE contractor, campaign gifts probed

WASHINGTON - The same month that Vice President Al Gore visited a Massachusetts plant and praised its hazardous-waste cleanup technology, the company's top executives agreed to raise $50,000 for the Clinton-Gore '96 campaign, records show.

William M. Haney III, president of Molten Metal Technology Inc., and Victor E. Gatto, the firm's vice president for government sales, agreed to raise $25,000 apiece for a June 6, 1995 fund-raising dinner at the vice president's residence, according to records.

The White House was so pleased with the executives' support that Gore's chief of staff, Jack Quinn, called Haney and Gatto to thank them a week after the vice president's Earth Day visit to the company's Fall River plant, according to a call sheet released last summer. They were among 32 donors who received calls from Quinn in a two-day period.

A House subcommittee opened hearings Wednesday on whether the company's paid lobbyist and former Gore staffer, Peter S. Knight, improperly used his political connections to help Molten Metal get a major expansions in an Energy Department contract that was overseen by another former Gore aide.

Knight, who chaired the Clinton-Gore '96 campaign, thanked Haney and Gatto in a May 1, 1995 letter for their fund-raising commitment.

Republicans on the House Commerce oversight subcommittee are examining whether the $62,000 donations the company made to the Democratic National Committee influenced DOE decisions between 1993 and 1996 to expand the contract from $1.2 million to $33 million.

"There appears to be a remarkable relationship between the timing of Molten Metal's political contributions - many of which were apparently solicited or facilitated by Mr. Knight - and favorable contract actions by the department," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the panel's chairman.

Democrats argued that the panel had no evidence the contract, first awarded in the Bush administration, was influenced by politics and charged Republicans with using "smear tactics" to hurt Gore.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., called the hearings "a partisan attempt to do a hatchet job on the vice president."

Democrats pointed to an internal Republican staff memo that "there is no 'smoking gun', which opens us up to partisan criticism for engaging in a witchhunt or smear of Democrat officials."

Thomas Grumbly, a former assistant energy secretary for environmental management who oversaw the contract, testified that was unaware of the company's political donations.

Nor was he aware of the $50,000 Haney gave to the University of Tennessee in 1984 to help endow a chair in environmental studies in memory of Gore's late sister, Nancy Gore Hunger, Grumbly said.

"Such contributions had no influence on my decisions because I didn't know about them," said Grumbly, who has known Knight since their days as members of Gore's congressional staff in the early 1980s.

Grumbly said his longstanding professional relationship with Knight played no part in his decision to support expanding the contract initially from $1.2 million to $9 million or subsequent additions. The company offered the best technology to cleaning up 1.3 million pounds of radioactive scrap metal at nuclear weapons plants, he said.

Haney said in interviews this week that the money his company gave the DNC was unrelated to the Energy Department contract.

His commitment to raise money for the campaign was "a complete coincidence" to Gore's plant visit. "The vice president's visit was in no way or shape connected to politics," Haney said. The visit was set up by an aide to the White House science adviser.

Although Gore's visit was "to me emotionally quite important" Haney said it had no commercial value to the company.

The House investigation has found no effort by Gore to intervene on behalf of Molten Metal in the Energy Department contracting process.

But within the seven months of Gore's visit the company's stock doubled in value. Knight exercised 4,000 options and realized capital gains of more than $90,000, according to investigators.

By The Associated Press

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