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Life of the
On to the
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Back in his home state, the 60-year-old Burton, who favors gold bracelets and custom-made suits that flatter his tall, slim frame, is still "Danny" to just about everyone. He represents one of the safest and most conservative seats in the country: Central Indiana's 6th Congressional District has one of the highest concentrations of Republican voters in America; a key county in the district, Hamilton, is the nation's eighth wealthiest.
Burton's constituents seem to like their congressman's outspoken ways. Not even his well-publicized gaffes have dampened local enthusiasm. "He was already extremely popular here," says Republican state Sen. Beverly Gard, whose district overlaps with Burton's. "But with his committee investigation (into campaign fund-raising violations by the Democrats), I would suspect that his approval rating has gone even higher." His reelection in November became a foregone conclusion when his Democratic opponent, Bob Kern, was reported by the media to be a cross-dressing felon. (Kern had been convicted more than a decade ago of felony theft and forgery and spent time in prison.) A furious and deeply embarrassed Indiana Democratic Party even sued in an unsuccessful effort to get Kern off the ballot. In short, Burton has not had to worry about serious competition.
In Washington, though, Burton is regarded by many colleagues, even in his own party, as an obstructionist and something of a kook. Glowering or smiling through gritted teeth, he delights in blocking committee action by raising procedural issues, talking until his allotted time is up, then, after losing a voice vote, demanding a recorded count -- thereby flushing indignant colleagues from their offices for an exercise in futility. "More than a decade of contention on many issues has purchased Burton a reputation in Congress as something of a flake," wrote the Indianapolis Star's George Stuteville in 1993. "Members of the Hoosier delegation ... note privately that virtually everything Burton proposes is bound to be defeated."
Burton regularly makes headlines with attention-getting stunts. In 1993, he fired a rifle at a "headlike thing" in his backyard in front of a homicide expert to prove his theory that Clinton advisor Vincent Foster did not commit suicide but was murdered and that his body was moved to a Virginia park. In 1995, he wrote Clinton, demanding to know whether taxpayers were footing the cost of stationery and postage for the fan club dedicated to Socks, the first cat. (They were not.)
In May, Burton released transcripts of former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell's prison conversations, but selectively edited out comments suggesting that the first lady was innocent of Whitewater charges. An uproar ensued, and Burton apologized on the House floor.
"Dan is a very complicated guy, and yet on the other hand he's very simple," says Brian Vargus, who polled for Burton in his first successful congressional race, in 1982, and who now runs Indiana University's Public Opinion Laboratory. Friends describe the congressman as remarkably driven and fiercely partisan. Yet even some Democrats note that he can be heroically loyal, sticking by people during tough times. He is often empathetic and emotional on a one-to-one basis with people and can change his mind on issues that touch him personally.
For example, in 1992 he moved to cut $1 million from funding for breast-cancer and cervical screening programs, plus $20 million from the National Cancer Institute; but after his wife, Barbara, was diagnosed with breast cancer, he reversed course and wrote to a House subcommittee, "You have my complete support to make sure that women have the opportunity to get mammograms as early as possible."
His staff members say he is unusually concerned and solicitous during their personal difficulties. Some of the people who have been bludgeoned by him publicly find him charming and warm in private. And some witnesses before his committee, though they have complained about his aggressive partisanship, praise his manner, which they say was refreshingly professional. "While I was at the White House, I attended Congressman Burton's hearings and was publicly critical of what amounted to blatant partisanship he displayed, which undermined his credibility," says Lanny Davis, former White House deputy counsel. "But he always treated me as a gentleman and was always fair when there was an opportunity to do otherwise."
Last May, Burton narrowly averted attempts to remove him as chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and to dilute the committee's power. His confrontational and sometimes clownish behavior, which included having staff members construct a giant mural made up of pictures of questionable Democratic contributors with Clinton in the center, led Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, to claim, "There has never been an investigation that has been so plagued by mistakes, raw partisanship and wrong judgments." Even Republicans began expressing dissatisfaction with his missteps.
More recently, after having cobbled together a compromise on rules with the Democrats, Burton once again generated headlines this fall for his efforts to force Reno to appoint an independent investigator to look into Democratic fund-raising abuses. After Burton threatened to cite her for contempt of Congress, Reno announced a preliminary 90-day investigation, after which she once again declined to appoint an independent counsel in the matter.
Yet Burton's critics claim that he has demonstrated carelessness bordering on recklessness in his own political fund-raising. For example, Burton has been eager to take up the causes of special-interest groups that have little to do with his core constituents. In 1996, 84 percent of his individual campaign contributions came from outside Indiana, and almost 25 percent of the total came from Florida, where Miami Cubans regard the congressman as one of their chief congressional patrons. He was a sponsor of the 1995 Helms-Burton Act, which aimed to penalize companies doing business in Cuba. Burton presents the law as a strike against Castro and communism, but CEOs from companies including General Motors, Sears, Zenith and Hyatt Hotels oppose it as harmful to American business interests.
Perhaps the strangest Burton constituency is American Sikhs; in 1996 a large number of Burton's donations came from individuals with identifiable South Asian surnames. Burton has become the Hill's leading supporter of Sikh rights and a harsh critic of India, where the Sikhs are seeking to carve out their own independent nation. Burton's fellow Hoosier Lee Hamilton, the well-respected former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has chastised Burton for supporting a separatist movement.
Last year Burton, who has been investigating contributions to Clinton by U.S. Buddhist temples, was compelled to return two of his own campaign contributions from Sikh temples after the donations became public. Burton's staff reportedly said they thought "Gurudwara Sahib" was a Sikh name, and didn't realize Gurudwara means temple -- although virtually all Sikh men use the surname Singh.
Shortly before his hearings into Clinton campaign-finance violations began, the congressman flew to California, where he played golf at an AT&T-sponsored tournament in Pebble Beach with Robert Allen, the company's chairman. He also allowed AT&T to throw a fund-raising bash for him while he was there -- this at the same time that his committee was overseeing the awarding of a $10 billion government telephone contract, on which AT&T was bidding.
Even more serious fund-raising charges against Burton emerged last year, when a former lobbyist for the government of Pakistan, Mark Siegel, claimed that the congressman had used heavy-handed tactics in pressuring him to deliver campaign contributions, including threats of serious consequences if Siegel failed to do so. Siegel's allegations were referred to a grand jury; that investigation, which has received little press coverage, apparently is still active. Burton has denied threatening Siegel.
In a recent interview, Siegel elaborated that Burton may have committed other violations, including making illegal telephone solicitations from federal premises. Siegel says the calls clearly came from Burton's Capitol Hill office; and notes that the return phone numbers left were for that office. Siegel says he has told this to the grand jury.
"I've spoken to Burton many times," says Siegel, who says the congressman called him at least five times to ask for money. "He always made the calls; he always left the office number as his return phone number, which is amusing because he was attacking the vice president for using his office for making campaign fund-raising calls. The vice president was making soft-money calls, which was potentially illegal, but Burton was making hard-money calls, which is explicitly illegal." Siegel says Burton's language was both inappropriate and inelegant: "Several times he said, 'If you know what's good for you, you'll get me my money.' My money, as if it was his."
A former computer technician for Burton's committee, Jeffrey Senter, claims that he listened while Dan Moll, general counsel for the civil-service subcommittee, made telephone calls soliciting campaign contributions for Burton from subcommittee offices during the workday. "His tone was the hard sell: You will give us money or we will never help you again," the technician recalls. Senter, a registered Democrat who has done computer work both for the Clinton-Gore 1992 campaign and inauguration and for a committee chaired by a Republican, says that he would be willing to testify before a grand jury.
Senter says he mentioned the calls to several other staffers, who told him that they had complained about similar calls by Moll from the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service affairs, which was later merged into Government Oversight. Steve Williams, another former committee staffer, says he remembers running into Moll in hallways, and Moll telling him he was busy raising money for Burton. Senter says Moll was calling postal industry political action committees. Moll declined to comment for this article.
Ray O'Malley, a lobbyist and attorney who formerly worked for the prominent Washington firm of Cassidy & Associates, tells of receiving calls from Burton staffers urging him to attend fund-raisers for their boss. This lobbyist is certain that Moll called him from the congressional-committee offices, since, he claims, messages left for him to call back had phone numbers whose prefixes ring only inside the Capitol. Also, he believes other Burton solicitations came from Capitol fax machines. The lobbyist says he complained to Burton himself about the calls. "I did advise him personally that he shouldn't be calling from there," he says. But Burton shrugged off his complaints, he recalls.
N E X T+P A G E+| "Our father was
a con man."
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