09/11/97 - 12:24 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Senators: Gore had to suspect calls were illegal

WASHINGTON - Republicans on the Senate committee investigating campaign fund-raising said Wednesday that Vice President Gore must have known he might be breaking the law when he made fund-raising calls from his White House office.

At the same time, the White House and Democrats on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee repeated Gore's defense that the 46 calls he made in 1995 and 1996 were legal because he was soliciting "soft money" for the Democratic Party. Those are funds used to support general party activities, not specific candidates.

In the opinion of Gore and the Democrats, making calls to raise soft money does not violate a law that prohibits soliciting funds for candidates while on federal property. Their point: Soft money goes to a party, not a single candidate.

The day's back-and-forth:

At the hearing, Republicans on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee released a Feb. 22, 1996, memo from former White House aide Harold Ickes to President Clinton and Gore. Ickes had attached a report from Democratic National Committee (DNC) official Brad Marshall.

In that report, Marshall detailed the difference between hard and soft money. And he discussed how much of each type of money the party needed to pay for advertising.

Republicans focused on a Marshall line that said "federal money," another term for hard money, "is the first $20,000 given by an individual." They said that was evidence Gore knew some of the money he would be raising would go into the DNC's hard-money account.

Federal election law limits hard-money contributions. Each election cycle, the most one person can give to any single candidate is $20,000. An individual's total hard-money donations cannot exceed $25,000. There are no limits on soft-money donations.

"It just seems as clear as it possibly could be" that Gore knew he was soliciting at least some hard money, said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

Outside the hearing, Democrats released documents they said the committee had in hand but that Republicans had not made public. The Democrats' evidence: "call sheets," or memos prepared for Gore about individuals he was to call and ask for money. The call sheets all listed donors who were expected to give more than $25,000. Democrats said the donations' size show Gore was going after soft money.

The various memos are certain to be part of a Justice Department review of whether an independent counsel should investigate Gore's calls.

By Judi Hasson, USA TODAY

Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.