BOSTON -- A 'handful of greedy Iowa politicians' have subverted the presidential primary process through that state's first-in-the-nation caucuses, Gary Hart's former campaign manager said Tuesday.
William Dixon, silent since Hart pulled out of the race in May, also blasted the news media's fascination with 'the naked pursuit of sensationalism' at the expense of issues.
'Iowa is the home of many sophisticated, greedy political leaders who know how important it is to get money,' Dixon told a meeting of the the National Association of Secretaries of State. 'And they threaten actual political candidates with regularity, with crudeness and seeming impunity in their quest for political funds.
'In my time running Senator Hart's office, I had a great deal of threats made to us from lobbyists, from labor leaders and others,' he said. 'I received so many calls last year (saying), '(Sen. Joseph) Biden paid me $15,000, if Hart doesn't get his money here next week we'll destroy him.
'(Rep. Richard) Gephardt just bought X thousands of dollars of my tickets,' Dixon said. 'Your check better be here or we'll get Gary Hart.''
He blamed the problem on 'a handful of greedy Iowa politicians,' but declined to provide specifics.
'The leadership of the political parties in Iowa have taken a good thing and run it into the ground,' said Dixon, suggesting another state be given the opportunity to reap the financial benefits that go with holding a key political test.
'The 'greedy' politicians don't run the Iowa Democratic party, nor do they run or influence the Iowa voters,' said Iowa Secretary of State Elaine Baxter, who was attending the national meeting at a downtown hotel.
Iowa Democratic Party spokesman Phil Roeder labeled the comments 'whining and sour grapes,' and part of a recent trend toward 'Iowa bashing.'
He said many of the stories started in 1986 when political action committees for Gephardt, Biden and former Arizona Bruce Babbitt contributed to national, state and local campaigns.
'Even if there was this quasi-extortion that Dixon talks about, the campaigns have better things to spend their money on,' Roeder said. 'They simply cannot afford it.'
'No one has approached me in that regard and I love Iowa,' Biden said during a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa. 'No one has attempted to hold me up or anyone else that I'm aware of,' he said. Biden added he believes Dixon's comments come from frustration over Hart's demise.
Mark Farnen, deputy campaign manager for Gephardt's Iowa campaign, said he was surprised at Dixon's comments.
'We as Iowans never blackmailed any other candidate,' he said. 'Maybe the allegation is people out here blackmail candidates. I don't think the Gephardt campaign would succumb to that kind of pressure anyway.'
Dixon also had sharp words for the media in light of Miami Herald stories on Hart's relationship with Miami model Donna Rice, which forced him from the race on May 8.
'The New York Times and others have made an editorial decision, not only on matters of genuine public concern, but on the most intimate details of private behavior,' he said.
'If there is anything in your past or your family's past that might prove remotely embarrassing, you'd better call your own press conference these days, you'd better get it out, or if not, the press will make a determination that they're going to do it.
Dixon conceded the former candidate made a serious mistake that required his withdrawal.
'He made a classic error,' Dixon said. 'He tempted fate once too often by putting himself in a situation where everyone could, and indeed did, think the worst, regardless of the facts.'