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Senators Say PAC that Opposed Them Has Foreign Tie

March 17, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Three Democratic senators say an imported-car dealers’ group that spent almost $1 million against them in recent elections is really a foreign agent, and they want the Justice Department to investigate.

Leaders of the car group deny they’re working for foreigners. And one said Friday two of the senators are ″hypocrites″ who asked for money from them and took $8,000 when it was offered.

″I think it’s nothing but sour grapes,″ said Tom Nemet, chairman of the Auto Dealers and Drivers Free Trade PAC, a political action committee that last year spent nearly $2.6 million on House and Senate elections.

Of that total, about 83 percent was spent to help Republican candidates, according to figures compiled by the Federal Election Commission.

Sens. Harry Reid and Richard Bryan, both of Nevada; Bob Graham of Florida, and David Boren of Oklahoma signed a letter to the Justice Department alleging that the PAC is a foreign agent working for the Japanese automobile manufacturers.

Boren, who has neither been opposed by nor accepted money from the group, signed the letter because his colleagues asked him to and because he is opposed to the role political action committees in general are playing in American politics, said spokesman John Deeken.

Under federal law, individuals or firms representing foreign governments, people or companies have to register with the Justice Department as foreign agents and report what activities they have carried out for their clients.

While foreign agents could still give money to political campaigns as individual American citizens, the law does not permit them to make such contributions in their role as foreign agents.

Nemet and Frank Glacken, the imported-auto dealer PAC’s executive director, said in a telephone interview from their office in New York City that Reid, Bryan and Graham are trying to get even because the group spent large amounts of money against them.

Nemet and Glacken said the organization’s funding comes entirely from American citizens.

Last year, the PAC spent $548,989 trying to defeat Bryan, much of it through ″independent expenditures,″ meaning the organization was operating on its own and was not subject to the legal limitation that would apply if it were giving money directly to a campaign. Bryan and his Republican opponent, former Sen. Chic Hecht, each spent about $3 million on their hotly contested race, according to records at the Federal Election Commission.

The PAC spent $430,500 against Graham in his 1986 race against then-Sen. Paula Hawkins, and it gave the legal limit of $10,000 to the 1986 campaign of James D. Santini, who lost to Reid, the FEC records show.

But the PAC, as some do, worked both sides of the street in those races and gave $5,000 to Graham and $3,000 to Reid, according to the FEC records.

″I mean these guys are hypocrites,″ Nemet said. ″They asked us for money to suport them.″

Craig Varoga, a spokesman for Reid, said the senator does not plan to give back any of the money, despite his suspicions that the PAC is funded by foreign interests and the contributions would thus be against the law.

Ken Klein, a spokesman for Graham, said the senator also had no plans to give back the $5,000 he received from the PAC he now accuses of being a foreign agent. Klein said Graham would wait to see what the Justice Department decides.

Jean Neal, a spokeswoman for Bryan, said he was not acting in revenge but was genuinely disturbed by the thought of PACs making independent expenditures to influence elections. She did acknowledge that Bryan was ″not thrilled″ that the PAC spent more than half a million dollars against him.

The PAC also paid out big money to help Trent Lott in Mississippi, Connie Mack in Florida and Malcom Wallop in Wyoming. All three of those Republicans won their Senate elections.

Lott had $319,126 spent on his behalf by the PAC, Mack received a $10,000 contribution and had another $326,050 spent for him, and Wallop got a $4,000 contribution with $88,862 spent on his behalf, according to the FEC.

The PAC also spent money independently on two House races, and the beneficiaries there were Democrats.

Rep. David Skaggs of Colorado had $80,000 spent independently for him, and Rep. Richard Stallings of Idaho got $45,000 spent independently on his behalf.

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