Bush campaign trip for Simon dogged by questions over candidate's business troubles

Friday, August 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ President Bush is crisscrossing California to give a $3 million-boost to Republican Bill Simon's ailing gubernatorial campaign, as Democrats question how a fraud verdict against the candidate's investment firm squares with Bush's tough talk on corporate crime.

``Bill Simon assures us that when the courts look at this case he'll be innocent, and I take the man for his word,'' Bush said Thursday while in Oregon on another fund-raising swing.

Bush's appearance in Portland was marked by a clash between police and demonstrators who protested Bush's policies on the environment, Iraq and more. Riot police used pepper spray and struck some demonstrators with batons after ordering hundreds of people to move from near a hotel where Bush raised $1 million for Sen. Gordon Smith and the Oregon GOP.

After a Friday luncheon in northern California, Bush heads to Orange County in southern California to harvest more political money at an evening reception. Saturday morning would find the president hitting up more Republican donors over breakfast in Los Angeles.

Besides the targeted $3 million for Simon, the events were expected to raise another $1 million for the state GOP.

Bush left a ``working vacation'' at his Texas ranch for three days of Western travel and GOP fund-raising. The president was visiting Oregon, California and New Mexico, all states he lost _ Oregon and New Mexico by the thinnest of margins _ to Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 election.

The total take for three days: more than $5.3 million.

Bush has recently ramped up an already record-shattering fund-raising effort on behalf of GOP politicians. From Aug. 6 when he left Washington until his return around Sept. 1, he will speak at 11 Republican money events.

But as the traditional Labor Day kickoff of the fall campaign approaches, the president will be looking to wind down the focus on money in favor of rallies and other vote-attracting events.

``There's no hard date on it,'' White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Thursday. ``But ... the closer it gets to Election Day, the less important it is to raise money, the more important it is to have more `get out the vote' style events.''

The appearances for Simon will be his first with Bush since William E. Simon & Sons was slapped with a $78 million civil fraud verdict last month. Simon was not named in the lawsuit and says he thinks the verdict, which is being appealed, will be overturned.

Amid speculation in California that Bush wanted no public side-by-side viewings of the pair, the White House had Simon on the list of people set to greet the president when he touched down at the airport in Stockton. Simon was later traveling on Bush's plane southward.

The president will ``proudly stand with Simon,'' Fleischer said.

Democrats could hardly contain themselves.

California Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland likened the president's visit to an uncle visiting a nephew in jail. ``It's family responsibility, but you get out of town quickly,'' he said.

The man Simon is trying to unseat, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, scheduled a bill-signing for Friday on three measures toughening the state's corporate accountability laws.

Back in Washington, Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said ``Bush's hypocrisy is galling'' as he raises money for Simon while also championing corporate responsibility at every opportunity.

None of it stopped Bush from forging ahead on both fronts.

``We had some citizens in our country who decided that they were going to cook the books. We had some citizens who did not uphold their responsibilities as leaders,'' he said at a $1 million fund-raising reception for Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., in Portland. ``I got a corporate fraud task force in place that's going to hunt these cheaters down and bring them to justice.''

Simon needs Bush's help. His campaign had $5 million in the bank as of June 30 compared to $31 million for Davis and the governor is ahead in the polls.

The White House scheduled policy events during the president's trip that allowed the cost of the travel by the president and his large entourage to be covered by taxpayers as well as campaign accounts.

In Oregon, Bush promoted a new fire-prevention proposal.