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Carol Moseley Braun

Times Staff Writer

At the center of Carol Moseley Braun’s presidential bid are two documents. The first is the broad resume of the only African American woman ever elected to the Senate. The second is a half-inch-thick yellow binder that seeks to rebut “the nasties” -- numerous allegations of malfeasance and poor judgment that helped lead to her fall from political power in 1998.

The binder full of government investigative findings suggests that many of the ghosts from Moseley Braun’s political past, including alleged misuse of campaign funds, were either benign specters or explicable mistakes rather than malicious or illegal misdeeds.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jul. 24, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 24, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Moseley Braun profile -- Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, a Democratic presidential candidate, was based in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, when she served as U.S. ambassador. An article in Sunday’s Section A incorrectly implied that she was based in Christchurch.

That her campaign for the Democratic nomination is already focused as much on defending her past as promoting her future as a leader, however, gives some indication of the incline of her campaign trail ahead.

The former federal prosecutor, county official and state legislator was elected to the Senate in 1992. Charmed by her beam of a smile and natural eloquence, many Americans believed they were witnessing, in a single election, a quantum leap for women and minorities in politics.

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Six scandal-addled years later, Moseley Braun lost her reelection bid and was dispatched to the far fringes of foreign relations, as ambassador to New Zealand, where her duties also included diplomatic oversight of Antarctica.

With most pundits doubting that she could win a City Council seat here, let alone her old Senate seat, she is seeking the nation’s highest office. At recent events and during interviews in Chicago and Milwaukee, Moseley Braun has seemed a bit humbler than in the past -- certainly wiser, she says. Her zeal, however, has not waned.

“Nobody ever thought I would win an election -- not at the county level, not at the state level, not to the Senate,” said Moseley Braun, 55. “But mine is the face of the American dream -- it’s just black and female.”

Her emerging platform is built around a handful of issues: more federal funding for schools while maintaining local oversight, universal health care, reducing the national debt and balancing the budget.

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The key to her run, however, is a pledge to restore individual rights and a sense of American pride and common purpose -- ideals lost, she said, by a Bush administration that has exploited American fears after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 to drive “an extreme agenda, dangerous and divisive.”

“These people have such a cynical agenda,” Moseley Braun said. “They’re using 9/11 to take away our civil liberties. Your librarian now has to turn you in if you check out the wrong book. It ought to be enough to get [President Bush] out of office.”

Moseley Braun has released no comprehensive policy papers, and during appearances at Democratic forums she has spent little time on specific policy initiatives, instead competing with the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and others to portray herself as the candidate most unlike Bush.

She has criticized the president for largely ignoring the United Nations in going to war in Iraq, the Congress for “abdicating its constitutional role” in allowing Bush to proceed, and various initiatives by Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft to broaden the powers of law enforcement.

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In a field of nine Democratic hopefuls, Moseley Braun is considered to be among the longest of the longshots.

In the second quarter, she doubled her campaign take from the first -- but that is still meager: $145,000, up from $72,000. By comparison, Dean took in $7.6 million to lead the Democrats.

Moseley Braun’s press secretary quit in early summer and she had no campaign manager until July 1, when she hired veteran Illinois political consultant Patrick Botterman. With consultants in Boston and small groups of mostly volunteer workers in Chicago and Washington, D.C., Moseley Braun’s operation has listed badly.

She recently decided to consolidate most of her operation in Chicago, though her campaign headquarters contains mostly empty cubicles. Her immediate focus is to secure $5,000 in contributions in each of 20 states to qualify for federal matching funds.

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“That will send a signal that the campaign is organized,” Botterman said.

Moseley Braun departed New Zealand when Bush took office, planning to leave politics behind and grow peonies and pecans on the Alabama farm of her late great-grandfather. Then came the terrorist attacks and Bush’s response.

Charles Cook, an independent Washington-based political analyst who had been tough on Moseley Braun in the past, acknowledged softening his stance after a recent meeting with her and a close look at the yellow binder.

“She’s saying some things that need to be said,” Cook said. She is also “looking for some vindication, and the vindication is not in winning but in getting some votes. She never defended herself against all these accusations, so they were just left to stand.”

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Moseley Braun, who is divorced and has an adult son, is counting on her acumen as a handshaking populist to keep her in the race long enough for big money to begin flowing.

After speaking to 120 black county officials from around the country recently in Milwaukee, she strode out of a meeting room and into a line of elephants and acrobats as a circus parade made its way through town. The parade had blocked her car, so she headed for lunch at a nearby Irish restaurant as parade-watchers rushed to shake her hand. “I support you 1 million percent,” one woman shouted.

Finding the restaurant closed, Moseley Braun turned to leave when a city councilman from Hahnville, La., corralled her gleefully and invited her to a hospitality suite for catered sandwiches and more handshaking.

“Even more than I, my wife is a great admirer,” said G. “Ram” Ramchandran. “I don’t know yet who I’ll support, but we cannot have two societies in this country, and she expressed that so many times on the Senate floor.”

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Moseley Braun grew up in a “second society,” Chicago’s mostly black, mostly poor South Side, her father a police officer, her mother a medical technician. Her first foray into public life was a crusade to save the habitat of bobolink birds in a nearby park.

She spent a decade in the Illinois Legislature and in 1988 was elected Cook County recorder of deeds. Four years later she upset U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon in the primary and beat Republican Richard Williamson for the seat.

In U.S. politics, 1992 was “The Year of the Woman,” when a record eight women were elected to the Senate and 47 to the House. Endlessly effervescent and often wearing a flamboyant sun hat, Moseley Braun became a media darling and a national symbol of progress.

“I was elected from a state, but I had national constituency demands,” she said. “I had gone to the Senate expecting to be treated as any other senator, but I wasn’t.”

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Moseley Braun helped secure funding for crumbling schools, muscled her way on to the powerful Senate Finance Committee and gave a riveting, impassioned speech criticizing then-Sen. Jesse Helms over the flying of the Confederate flag.

As a national figure she came under scrutiny by the national media, and her successes -- modest, most observers agree -- were soon overshadowed by controversy.

The yellow binder contains all the documents clearing her of wrongdoing but also supports what many observers have long said: Her office was chronically mismanaged and Moseley Braun made many questionable, if legal, decisions.

She vacationed twice in Africa, where she visited Nigerian dictator Gen. Sani Abacha -- to the consternation of voters and the Clinton White House. Moseley Braun and her campaign manager at the time, Kgosie Matthews, who were engaged, faced federal inquiries for allegedly misusing campaign funds. The Justice Department twice refused to pursue a criminal investigation, and neither was ever charged. Moseley Braun and Matthews did not marry.

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Moseley Braun’s campaign, however, repeatedly made such mistakes as reporting the same contributions several times, the Federal Elections Commission found, leaving the impression that she mysteriously spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. The sum total the FEC could not account for was $311.28.

The damage, though, was done.

“My middle name,” Moseley Braun recalled, “became Campaign-Finance-Irregularity.” She lost her reelection bid to Republican Peter Fitzgerald and soon headed for Christchurch, New Zealand.

Back on the campaign trail for the first time in five years, she is variously greeted with glee, caution and eye-rolling.

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“There is no reason at all to take her seriously,” said Gerald Austin, an Ohio-based political consultant who worked on Moseley Braun’s 1992 Senate campaign. “There are two Carols: One is very bright, articulate, up on the issues and can show genuine brilliance; the second is an actress who wants to do something because there’s an ulterior motive. The motive is she wants attention.”

After her speech before the National Assn. of Black County Officials in Milwaukee, Linda Graham, a former county commissioner from Liberty County, Ga., was circumspect.

“Just to have her run -- a female, an African American, a seasoned politician -- is very good,” said Graham, 50. “I wish her well, but my concern is about her chances of winning.”

On the drive from Chicago to Milwaukee, Moseley Braun recalled with delight a trip to the South Pole during her time as ambassador, her election to the county seat, her rewarding 10 years at the Illinois statehouse and her difficult six years in the Senate.

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“I don’t much care what my enemies think of me,” she said. “But I want my friends to know that my public life has absolutely been beyond reproach. And I’m running because not running would mean going backward. I always go forward.”

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Q&A;

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Should we have gone to war in Iraq? What would you have done differently?

No. The Congress should not have abdicated its ... responsibility. The administration should have continued to support the international organizations’ efforts to inspect and disarm the Iraqi tyrant’s government, and we should have continued to press the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the terrorist cells that violated U.S. borders.

How would you try to stop the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran?

Nuclear disarmament is in the interest of the world community, and it will take the force of global cooperation in opposition to the intrigues of rogue states. By supporting, instead of enfeebling, the authority of the U.N. weapons inspections effort, by providing real support to halt the sale of nuclear materials, and by collaborating with efforts by the diplomatic and intelligence communities to track the movement of such materials, we can halt the threat of nuclear blackmail before it happens.

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What will be America’s greatest foreign policy challenge in the next 20 years?

Our greatest foreign policy challenge remains creating an environment in which our dominance as the world’s superpower does not give rise to worldwide resentment and antipathy. The instability of failed states, rogue governments and terrorism, as well as world poverty, disease and environmental challenges, require that we collaborate with other nations on behalf of shared interests.

Should income taxes be cut? If so, how? If not, why not?

Most Americans pay more in payroll taxes, as well as state and local taxes, than they do in income taxes. The challenge is to achieve tax simplification in ways that restore progressivity and balance to the tax relationship between levels of government. It does no good to press down upon property taxes and state taxes the costs of unfunded federal mandates, and it does not serve our national interests to shift the tax burden so much onto working people as to jeopardize the existence of the middle class.

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How would you provide health-care coverage to the uninsured?

We pay almost 15% of our GDP [gross domestic product] for health care; no other industrial nation is even in the double digits. It is time to admit that the mix of public and private payment systems leaves too many Americans in jeopardy, drives up costs and simply shifts expenses in ways that are not rational. We should have a single-payer system of health insurance that does not depend on employment and that restores the relationship between patients and providers. Such a system can maintain the quality of care we enjoy as Americans and will make health care affordable and accessible.

What are the most important steps the federal government can take to invigorate the economy?

The most important step is to help make the private sector robust again. This will require investment and a restoration of confidence in our fiscal policies. We can and should roll back the trickle-down tax cuts that have not created jobs or opportunities for entrepreneurs, and invest in rebuilding our crumbling schools and infrastructure. By promoting technology transfer and supporting environmental initiatives, we can create alternatives to foreign oil and create new industries as well. By reforming health care and taking the costs off of employment, we can give a boost to our export sector. By balancing the budget, we can help restore confidence that our economy will continue to be the engine for prosperity here and abroad. Economic policy should consider the needs and aspirations of all Americans, including the elimination of poverty, and we should resolve to provide opportunity and hope for everyone.

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As president would you propose a plan to bring the federal budget into balance by a specific date?

I was a co-sponsor of the balanced budget constitutional amendment when I served as senator from Illinois. I remain committed to achieving that goal. To peg a date, however, requires speculation about the economy. That would do a disservice to the goal and to its prospects.

Would you explicitly require that anyone you nominate to the Supreme Court commit to uphold the Roe vs. Wade decision that guaranteed a legal right to abortion?

Yes.

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*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Carol Moseley Braun

* Born: Aug. 16, 1947.

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* Age: 55.

* Parents: Joseph (police officer) and Edna Moseley (medical technician); both deceased.

* Education: University of Illinois (B.A., political science, 1969); University of Chicago (J.D., 1972).

* Spouse: Divorced.

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* Children: Matthew, 25.

* Residence: Chicago.

* Current job: Candidate.

* Previous jobs: Assistant U.S. attorney; Illinois state representative; Cook County recorder of deeds; U.S. senator.

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Source: Los Angeles Times


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