Media Beat, June 15, 1994
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

''Middle Class'' Label Veils Fat-Cats Behind Democrats

Few political groups have won such consistently favorable media treatment in recent years as the Democratic Leadership Council.

Founded in 1985 by Bill Clinton, Al Gore and other Southern Democrats as a pressure group within the national Democratic Party, the DLC pledged to move the party away from "special interests" and toward "the middle class." Since then, the DLC has gained enormous power and prestige.

But few journalists have bothered to report that the DLC is itself rife with "special interests."

Now, leaked DLC documents provide new evidence of corporate ties that bind the Clinton presidency and the Democratic Leadership Council.

A memo from the DLC's development director, dated March 7, 1994, clearly was not intended to see the light of day. It identifies specific DLC politicians - including the president and vice president of the United States - who would "be most successful in soliciting the contribution" from particular fat cats for the DLC's political policy arm.

The memo suggests that Clinton approach poultry tycoon Donald Tyson, of Tyson Foods, for a hefty contribution. In addition, it urges that Clinton target multibillionaire businessman Warren Buffett.

The memo also sets out a plan for Vice President Gore to seek funds for DLC operations from Disney cable executive John Cooke. Conveniently, Gore heads the Clinton administration's policy team on the information superhighway - with huge implications for Disney's cable investments.

A newsletter called Counterpunch (published by the D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies) obtained the DLC memo - later described by a DLC spokesperson as "an internal fund-raising document."

One key question remains about the memo: Did Clinton or Gore know about the behind-the-scenes fund-raising roles spelled out in the memo?

In the very first words of its May 30 news report on the existence of the DLC memo, the Washington Post cleared the nation's top two officials of any complicity: "President Clinton and Vice President Gore don't know it yet, but the Democratic Leadership Council ... has listed them on internal memos as 'solicitors' to court wealthy people for a new DLC fund-raising drive."

There's one problem with that statement. The Post reporter who wrote it, Charles Babcock, didn't know if it was true. And he still doesn't.

"I probably should have said may not know it," Babcock told us in a June 13 interview. The first 10 words of his article, he said, were based on a "hunch."

Like the Washington Post, we were unable to get the White House to comment on when Clinton and Gore knew about the DLC memo.

In any case, the scenario sketched out in the memo signifies a new low in the DLC's tawdry activities. And that's low, indeed.

Year after year, DLC national meetings have been dominated by corporate lobbyists, many of them Republicans. At the DLC annual conference in March 1989, nearly 100 lobbyists subsidized the event by paying between $2,500 and $25,000 each. (In a moment of candor, DLC president Al From acknowledged: "There's no question you can define 'special interest' as our sponsors.')

The DLC's main thrust inside the Democratic Party has been to deride loyal activist constituencies - such as labor, racial minorities and feminists - as pushy special interests.

But the negative "special interests" tag is rarely affixed to the DLC and its big-money backers, including the top echelons of Arco, Prudential-Bache, Dow Chemical, Boeing, Georgia Pacific, the Tobacco Institute and Martin Marietta.

The corporate heavies behind the Democratic Leadership Council wouldn't know a middle-class person if their limousines ran over one. Yet that hasn't stopped the DLC - and Clinton, who was hoisted to the national political stage by the DLC - from swearing dedication to "the middle class" almost daily.

President Clinton rang the trusty bell in a speech to the DLC six months ago: "We must be the party of the values and the interests of the middle class." In late 1992, President-elect Clinton appeared at a DLC banquet in his honor, helping to raise $3 million for the group in a single night; as usual, middle class folks and "values" were hard to find at the DLC event - which cost $15,000 per plate.

The DLC has big backers in the media as well. Journalists constantly quote DLC luminaries about matters involving the Democratic Party, and hail DLCers as bold "New Democrats."

The sleaze that flows between high-rolling corporations and high-placed politicians is bipartisan, and deserves much more media scrutiny than it gets - especially when perpetuated by political groups claiming to speak on behalf of "the middle class."

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