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9/11 Panelists Keep Giving

A majority of 9/11 commissioners have continued to make campaign contributions as they have investigated the most deadly attack on U.S. soil in 60 years, including a pair of donations to President Bush and two to his challenger in November.

While none of the members of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States have openly campaigned for presidential candidates, several have backed up their party affiliations with campaign contributions.

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), for example, cut a $20,000 check from excess campaign funds at the end of March to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the behest of his former colleagues. One member of the commission, former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, gave to three of the Democratic presidential candidates who sought the nomination to oust Bush, including presumptive nominee John Kerry (D-Mass.)

A pair of leading Republicans on the commission, former Illinois Gov. James Thompson and former Navy Secretary John Lehman, both gave the maximum amount, $2,000, from their own pockets to Bush-Cheney ’04, Inc.

Aides to the commission said its members face no restrictions in terms of partisan activity, noting that the commission was intentionally established as bipartisan rather than nonpartisan, meaning commissioners have a “right to contribute” to candidates and campaign on their behalf if they so desire.

“They didn’t join a monastery when they were asked to come here,” said Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the commission. “They didn’t give up being citizens of the United States or their membership in either of their political parties.”

But leaders of the commission have grown concerned about the appearance of partisanship on the commission in recent weeks, so much so that Tom Kean, the former New Jersey governor chairing the panel, and Lee Hamilton, the vice chairman, met with House GOP leaders last Tuesday to talk about the issue.

Specifically, Kean, a Republican, and Hamilton, a former Democratic Representative from Indiana, offered to have Gorelick come to the Hill to talk to House and Senate GOP leaders, who have been highly critical of her actions regarding CIA and FBI intelligence sharing while she was deputy attorney general in the mid-1990s, according to a House GOP Member.

And some conservative activists were critical of the decisions of Hamilton and Kerrey to leave early from Thursday’s closed-door testimony by Bush and Vice President Cheney, both of whom cited prior engagements here in Washington.

In light of the tempest they have been thrust into, some commission members have set boundaries about what they will or won’t do politically.

Kerrey said that he was specifically asked by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to avoid public campaigning for any of the Democratic presidential candidates when he was asked to join the commission in December 2003.

“I’m not campaigning for anybody,” Kerrey said Thursday after departing the White House. “I’ll stay out of the [presidential] campaign until this commission is over.”

Felzenberg said that, as best he could tell, the other 9/11 commission members had followed the same attitude toward restricting themselves from publicly advocating for Bush, Kerry or the other onetime Democratic contenders.

“I think most of them have followed that same line,” he said.

Of the 10 members of the commission, Kerrey has by far been the most financially generous to federal candidates and party committees, according to Federal Election Commission reports and an analysis of donor giving by PoliticalMoneyLine.com.

Kerrey gave $14,000 out of his own wallet to four former Senate colleagues’ re-election bids, as well as $1,000 each to the presidential campaigns of Kerry and Sen Joe. Lieberman (D-Conn.). In addition, with left-over funds from his Kerrey for U.S. Senate Campaign Committee, he’s doled out another $48,000 to candidates and committees, including the $20,000 check to the DSCC on March 31.

Most of his contributions came in 2003, before Daschle asked him to join the commission as a replacement for former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who left the 9/11 panel in December to become a commissioner on the Export-Import Bank.

The other nine commission members have been in place since December 2002.

Before joining the 9/11 commission, for example, Kerrey gave retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s Democratic presidential campaign $1,000 in October 2003 from his old campaign account. He also last year gave $2,000 to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and $4,000 to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a pair of Senators who are closely monitoring the commission’s activities.

Since joining the commission, Kerrey’s old committee cut three more campaign checks, the largest one to the DSCC and two smaller checks to state Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). He also hosted a New York fundraiser for Obama’s U.S. Senate bid in February.

“Tom Daschle only asked me to stay out of the presidential primary,” Kerrey said, noting that he would be willing to campaign for Daschle in his re-election bid. “That doesn’t keep me from going to South Dakota if I had the time, which I don’t by the way.”

At least five other members of the commission have been active with political contributions, including the chairman, Kean. On Feb. 18, he gave a $2,000 contribution to the National Republican Senatorial Committee from personal funds.

Kean has a federal leadership PAC that had almost $250,000 in its account as of March 31, but the PAC has not been active this election cycle. He has not made any contributions, through either his own funds or his PAC, to Bush’s presidential campaign. His son, state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-N.J.), did give the president’s re-election effort $2,000 in December.

Hamilton, the vice-chairman, doesn’t appear to have given any campaign contributions to federal candidates or national party committees.

Other commission members who have not made political contributions this election cycle include former Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) and Washington lawyers Fred Fielding, a GOP appointee, and Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic appointee.

Felzenberg said that staff of the commission were expressly forbidden from campaigning for candidates or from attending rallies. “We’re deliberately a nonpartisan staff,” he said.

But staff members were allowed to make political contributions, and a review of top staffers’ donations shows that only one, the commission’s general counsel, Daniel Marcus, has been financially active.

Marcus has given $3,000 to Democratic candidates and committees this cycle, including a $2,000 donation to Clark’s campaign in October and a $500 check to Kerry’s campaign Feb. 11.

One commission member, former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), has reached across the aisle financially to donate to a Democrat, failed House candidate Joe Torsella (Pa.), who received a $200 check from Gorton in December. In all, Gorton has dished out a total of $2,400 from his own wallet to five candidates for office and two party committees.

Gorelick has given $12,500 to Democratic candidates this cycle, including three $1,000 checks to presidential campaigns: first Kerry in March 2003, then Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) last June and finally Clark in December.

Lehman, the former Navy Secretary, appears to be the only commission member to give to the Republican who led the fight to form the 9/11 panel. He gave a $2,000 check last May to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who along with Lieberman pushed for the commission’s formation.

Felzenberg said he thought it was appropriate for commission members to remain politically active. “It’s not non-partisan, it’s bipartisan,” he said. “You don’t cease to be a public person.”

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