North Advised Conservatives’ Pro-Contra Lobbying Campaign
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fired White House aide Lt. Col. Oliver North assisted a conservative group’s advertising campaign to marshal support for President Reagan’s Nicaragua policy and target Congress members on the Contra issue, according to people involved in the effort.
North provided information to a conservative fundraiser, Carl Russell ″Spitz″ Channell, and spoke to groups from whom Channell solicited money. Channell has assisted funnelling of private aid to the anti-Sandinista rebels after Congress cut off funding for the Contras, say sources involved in the Contra movement.
Channell directed a multi-million dollar television and newspaper advertising drive promoting Reagan’s proposal to back the Contra rebels.
In an interview, Channell claimed North was not a major player in his efforts, but that, ″I have met with him several times ... We were briefed by him twice ... He doesn’t know anything about domestic politics. I have never heard him in any of his briefings mention domestic politics.″
However, the Miami Herald reported Sunday that North ″supervised the financing and production″ of Channell’s media campaign, attributing its information to sources involved in the campaign.
The Herald story said a person who worked with North told of North personally soliciting contributions. The story quoted a March 1985 memo to North from a subordinate to Channell: ″Ollie. Very imp. Two people want to give major contribs ie 300,000 and up if they might have one quiet minute with the President.″ The story did not say if the request was granted.
A highly successful fund-raiser known for his ability to collect thousands of dollars through one-on-one solicitation of the wealthy, Channell said his foundation has raised nearly $6 million this year for his pro-Contra public awareness campaign.
Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Md., the target of the most hard-hitting of Channell’s commercials last spring, said Sunday he would formally request on Monday a congressional probe of allegations that money diverted from the sale of U.S. arms to Iran was funnelled into such conservative groups.
A Lowell, Mass. newspaper, the Sun, reported Sunday that Channell’s foundation was among groups that got Iran arms-sale profits. The newspaper did not identify the sources for its story.
The newspaper said $5 million from the proceeds of U.S. weapons sales to Iran was filtered to groups that used the money to support candidates who backed Reagan’s pro-Contra and Star Wars policies and on negative ads aimed at opponents of aiding the Contras.
Channell dismissed as fantasy the notion that his four conservative groups - the non-profit National Endowment For the Preservation of Liberty, two affiliated political action committees and his lobbying group called Sentinel - got any such money.
″It’s all private contributions,″ he said when asked about his fund raising.
Channell, in a telephone interview last week, also denied an NBC News report that North was principal adviser on the media campaign, but said he met several times with North over the past year to get information about the Central American question.
In addition, North, who took the Fifth Amendment last week rather than tell a House committee about his role in the Iran-Contra controversy, spoke to groups of Channell’s contributors and provided documents and pamphlets on the Central American issue.
″North would get up in front of a number of people and give an update on what the situation was in Central America,″ said Adam Goodman, political director of the Baltimore-based Robert Goodman agency, which produced most of Channell’s TV ads. Goodman said North did not engage in fund raising or political posturing at the events, which included lavish dinners at Washington’s exclusive Hay-Adams Hotel.
Goodman said his agency attended two such ″briefings″ by North, but that North was not involved with the firm in the ad production.
Some of Channell’s contributors recalled attending such Washington sessions at Channell’s invitation.
″Col. North talked to us ... I happen to think Col. North is a fine young man,″ said C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. of Washington, who gave $1,000 this year to Channell’s political action committee, American Conservative Trust. He said he made a donation at the event he attended. ″Obviously they wanted money,″ he said in a telephone interview. ″I donate funds to causes I believe in.″
Barnes, an outspoken opponent of Contra aid, said in an interview Sunday that he will ask the special investigative committees being set up by Congress to look into possible funnelling of weapons-sale money to conservative groups.
″There are now rampant allegations that the monies spent against me and other opponents of the president on Nicaragua by these ... groups may have come from the money we have now heard about (as being diverted) from the Iran arms sale,″ he said. He said he had no independent information about the matter.
Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday he did not know if pro-Contra money went into political activity. ″We just have no evidence of that at this point,″ he said.
Channell labelled his election-year effort ″issue-oriented″ rather than related to political campaigns by individuals. But he also bought $79,000 worth of political ads through his two PACs, American Conservative Trust and the Anti-Terrorism American Committee, which also made $23,000 in direct contributions to a handful of political candidates, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The $124,000 that FEC records show the two PACs collected this year is only a fraction of the $6 million Channell says he raised for his non-profit foundation.
The PACs produced TV commercials backing Sen. Jeremiah Denton, R-Ala., Sen. Paula Hawkins, R-Fla., and Republican Linda Chavez in Maryland’s Senate race, and opposing Rep. Tim Wirth’s Democratic Senate bid in Colorado.
Channell also sponsored U.S. speaking tours by Nicaraguan exiles.
Channell’s groups spent about $1.5 million on Contra commercials since the beginning of 1985, said Adam Goodman.
Many aired last spring, when the House was considering a $100 million aid package for the Contras.
One commercial linked Barnes with Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Yasser Arafat and Ayatollah Khomeini.
Sentinel was listed as the sponsor of the Barnes ad. There is no public record of the expenditure, however, because Sentinel has no disclosure report on file in Congress, as is required of lobbying groups. Channell expressed surprise when asked about that, and said he would check with his lawyers as to what happened to the report.
Channell’s groups also were the sole financial support of another organization set up to lobby Congress on the Central American question.
Sentinel and the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty were listed in House records as giving $66,000 to the Council For Democracy, Education and Assistance, Inc.
Channell, who worked for the prominent National Conservative PAC from 1979 to 1982, is well-known in conservative circles, but operates independently of the regular network.
″His groups seemes to be a self-contained little orbit,″ said Ken Boehm, of the Fund For A Conservative Majority. ″His forte is he is very good at personal fund raising ... He doesn’t have a broad base, but he has a deep base.″