Marshals Seize Hart’s Funds to Satisfy ‘84 Debt
U.S. marshals seized thousands of dollars from Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart’s Los Angeles fund-raising parties Wednesday night to satisfy an unpaid campaign debt from 1984.
Sounding irritated but expressing no embarrassment as a result of the crashing of his two parties, Hart said at a press conference Thursday that the matter was “apparently a legal misunderstanding.” He insisted that creditors from his last presidential campaign have no legal right to money raised for his 1988 run.
“I think whoever was proceeding in this direction was misinformed,” he said.
The Santa Barbara-based advertising company of Semper-Moser Associates took the attention-getting step of sending plainclothes marshals to the back-to-back Hart events to satisfy a $162,754.57 judgment the firm won in U.S. District Court last December against Hart’s 1984 campaign committee.
Semper-Moser attorney Betsy E. Lehrfeld in Washington said the marshals impounded $29,512.50 in cash and checks at the two events Wednesday night. Campaign officials for the former U.S. senator from Colorado could not verify the amount, but said the money was relinquished quietly to avoid a public scene at either function. One party was an $50-per-person rock ‘n’ roll fund-raiser at the Palace in Hollywood, and the other was a private $1,000-per-person affair at the home of oilman and movie mogul Marvin Davis.
Portion of Funds Raised
The impounded funds were only a portion of the $100,000 that the Hart campaign estimated was raised at the two events. Most of the money was prepaid and not seized.
Lehrfeld insisted that the seizure was not an attempt to publicly embarrass the Democratic presidential front-runner, who officially announced his candidacy only Monday. Instead, she said, Semper-Moser was unable to get Hart campaign officials to pay attention any other way.
“They told us, gee, they’d like to help out, and they’d get around to it sometime,” Lehrfeld said.
Deputy campaign manager John Emerson called the seizure “purely a stunt” and said it will be a short time before the campaign received its money back from the marshals. Emerson, an attorney, said it would be a violation of federal election law to use proceeds raised by one Hart committee to pay the debts of another.
Semper-Moser attorney Lehrfeld said this was a matter for the court to settle.
“Our argument is even if they are raising money for the 1988 campaign, they are using the same assets as in 1984, i.e., Gary Hart, to do it. They cannot rightfully shut out people they owe.”
Hart told press conferences in Los Angeles and San Francisco that he intended to pay the debt when he can. “That’s the way my parents raised me.”
Late Thursday, Hart’s attorneys met in Washington with representatives of Semper-Moser. Lehrfeld said no settlement was reached
Debt Originally $5 Million
After losing the 1984 Democratic nomination to Walter F. Mondale, Hart was left with a debt of almost $5 million. That has since been reduced to $1.3 million. Hart said he did this faster than most candidates in similar positions and is proud that he does not accept donations from corporate and special-interest political action committees. He said voters should give him credit “for being able to reduce a deficit.”
The claim by Semper-Moser is one of 12 court judgments pending against Hart. But no one else has resorted to calling on marshals to seize money. Hart is negotiating to settle the outstanding debts--sometimes at rates as low as 10 cents on the dollar, or, as he put it, “whatever the two sides agree on.”
Semper-Moser said it wanted full payment because its claim is for money the firm advanced Hart for purchase of television advertising time in Nevada and Washington state, not just fees for services.
Questions about seizure of his receipts dominated Hart’s day, and the candidate seemed to grow weary of questions about it. At one point he seemed to insinuate that the problem was the work of unidentified rivals, but he quickly backed down and indicated that he had been confused at the question.
This was the second flap to beset the Hart campaign since Monday’s announcement, proving pundits correct when they say the place of front-runner is uncomfortable in American politics.
On Tuesday, Hart gave conflicting answers to questions concerning recent news articles that made mention of Hart’s supposed reputation as a ladies’ man. (The first of the articles appeared last week in Newsweek magazine. It said Hart, who has twice been separated from his wife, Lee, during their 28-year marriage, has been “haunted by rumors of womanizing.”)
Hart on Tuesday appeared to accuse rival campaigns of spreading gossip about him, but he later retreated from the suggestion.
In San Francisco Thursday, Hart concluded his final press questions of the day with a game face. “I welcome the scrutiny that comes with the front-runnership,” he said.