UPI's Capital Comment for Feb. 20, 2002

By United Press International  |  Feb. 20, 2002 at 3:34 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- News notes, political rumors and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Rejoining the family of nations? -- Dr. Mustafa Osman Ismail, the Sudanese foreign minister, is stepping up efforts to express the commitment of his government to accept what they are calling "an internationally monitored cease-fire in southern Sudan." The minister was recently in Washington conveying that message to those who would listen, which sources close to the minister suggest is part of a campaign by the Sudanese government to get off the terrorist-supporting nation list maintained by the U.S. State Department. A source also says that FBI agents have been seen in Khartoum within the last month meeting with Sudanese intelligence officials and government ministers about ways in which the two governments can further cooperate in the war against terrorism.

Taking a shot at the so-called "newspaper" loophole -- Representatives of the self-evidently names National Campaign to Close the Newspaper Gun Ad Loophole are scheduled to release a study this week that purports to show that classified ads are "a potential source of guns (including assault weapons) for terrorists, criminals, and the mentally ill.."

The group says such sales permit gun purchasers to avoid mandated background checks in the 16 states surveyed -- where more than 75 percent of the surveyed newspapers allow guns to be sold through classified ads.

"Sales of guns through newspaper classifieds offer the anonymity and ability to avoid law enforcement checks, which make them a potential source of guns for terrorists," John Johnson, executive director of the Iowans for the Prevention of Gun Violence, said in a release. The Iowa group is one of 24 state and grassroots gun violence prevention groups that make up the campaign.

A new error of bipartisanship -- Several new developments have occurred in the ongoing battle for control of the U.S. Senate. First, as Rob Schlesinger first reported in the Boston Globe, Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, formerly a Republican who now caucuses with the Democrats as an independent, is scheduled to headline a major fundraising dinner for Senate Democrats on Feb. 27.

Jeffords also says he will hit the stump on behalf of Senate Democrats including the party's more embattled incumbents" though he will not, as of now anyway, be campaigning against Republican incumbents.

At the same time, Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have each launched attacks on the Club for Growth, a group that supports political candidates -- typically Republicans -- who in turn support tax cuts. Lieberman is particularly hacked off at ads the Club is running in South Dakota focused on the Senate's lead Democrat, Tom Daschle.

Lieberman, who was his party's candidate for vice president in 2000, wants President Bush to ask the Club, an independent group, to stop running ads, which he called "gutter attacks," criticizing Daschle for opposing tax cuts, the economic stimulus package and limits on federal spending. "As long as his party, or allies of his have anything to do with the gutter attacks on Tom Daschle," Lieberman said of the ads, "it just brings us all down."

For his part, McCain attacked the Club last Wednesday, first on MSNBC, then on CNN because the group generated support for Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., in the congressional primary in 2000. In his criticisms, McCain falsely alleged that the group did not disclose its donors, saying "What we're trying to do is stop organizations like a so-called Club for Growth that came into Arizona in a primary, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads. We had no idea who they were, where their money came from."

But the record shows that the Club was busily making headlines in their effort to oust New Jersey GOP Rep. Marge Roukema from her congressional seat in a primary and had been disclosing the names of all their donors after July 1, 2000, in accordance with the law passed by Congress earlier that year governing IRS section 527 political organizations. The Arizona primary was Sept. 12, 2000.

Wigging out over a leak -- Senate Republican staffers are still grumbling over the tongue-lashing their bosses received at a planning retreat from nominally GOP pollster Frank Luntz. As the story goes, Luntz opened his remarks with a tirade about how a memo he had written for GOP Senators suggesting ways to go at Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., had been leaked to the media by a member of the world's greatest deliberative body.

What makes this all the more ironic is that the pollster's reputation was, at least in part, made by leaks of Luntz-authored memos suggesting GOP leadership strategy to the media -- leaks perpetrated by none other then the author himself according to at least one former close associate.

In with a twist -- Massachusetts State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien has joined the race for governor of the commonwealth. The move, long expected, adds another big name Democrat to the race, which already includes Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich and former DNC Chairman Steve Grossman.

The 42-year-old O'Brien's political pedigree is well established. Her father, Edward O'Brien, a member of the commonwealth's Governor's Council, made headlines of his own when he made considerable noise questioning the ability of Acting Gov. Jane Swift, a Republican, to effectively lead the state following the birth of twin girls last year.

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