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The Mystery Man Who Inspired Dole's Latest Strategy

By Eric Pooley/Washington

(TIME, Oct. 7) -- For Arthur Finkelstein, this week might have been a vindication: Bob Dole finally started labeling Bill Clinton a "spend-and-tax liberal," using a crude but often effective strategy known as "Finkel-think" by some Dole advisers, because the secretive Republican strategist has been deploying it on behalf of his clients for 20 years. In 1992 Finkel-think helped New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato squeak past "hopelessly liberal" challenger Robert Abrams; in 1994 it helped a blank-slate state senator George Pataki unseat Mario ("too liberal for too long") Cuomo. Now Finkel-think has taken hold of Dole.

Last year D'Amato tried to bully Dole into giving Finkelstein total control of the campaign. Dole refused. These days, Finkelstein is exercising a kind of remote control. The Senator's latest brain trust is dominated by "Arthur's Boys"--such Finkelstein proteges as admakers Alex Castellanos and Chris Mottola, communications director John Buckley and pollster Tony Fabrizio. And Dole is rushing around the country chanting the Finkelstein mantra. "Liberal! Liberal! Liberal!" he cried in St. Louis, Missouri.

But Finkelstein isn't smiling. He has told friends that Dole's ploy is doomed to failure. Finkel-think, he now believes, is being used in the wrong year by the wrong candidate against the wrong opponent. Even though polls show Dole catching up a bit, some Dole advisers agree. "We are trying to make this a race against a liberal," says one, "and Bill Clinton won't play." Nor does it seem to be playing in Minnesota, where former Senator Rudy Boschwitz, a Finkelstein client, is trying to retake his seat from Senator Paul Wellstone. After five months of negative ads in which Wellstone has been called "liberal," "ultraliberal" and "embarrassingly liberal," Wellstone remains slightly ahead. One reason may be that Wellstone's record isn't news to liberal-leaning Minnesotans, many of whom seem proud that he's the only Senator up for re-election who voted against the welfare-reform bill.

The Dole campaign, however, is pressing on with Finkel-think. Dole's new TV ad is an attack on Clinton's "wasteful" spending projects, including "$2.5 million for alpine slides in Puerto Rico." But Clinton never proposed such a project. The slide was one of 4,000 items on a wish list sent to Washington by local officials during the 1993 debate over Clinton's failed economic stimulus package. Even so, the "slide" issue appeared in a series of ads last spring funded by the g.o.p.'s Senate campaign committee, the Republican money machine where D'Amato is chairman and Finkelstein is chief strategist. Those spots were used against Wellstone and also against Democratic Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and Max Baucus of Montana--a cookie-cutter approach that has helped turn the publicity-shy Finkelstein into a campaign issue.

In September Boston magazine made public what had been an open secret in political circles: that Finkelstein, who has worked for such antigay conservatives as Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth, is gay. Also damaging are news reports suggesting that D'Amato's Senate-campaign committee has been spending money in a way that favors Finkelstein-directed races. At D'Amato's urging, several g.o.p. candidates, including Boschwitz, Senator Larry Pressler of South Dakota and Representative Dick Zimmer of New Jersey, have replaced their strategists with Finkelstein. The candidates were apparently rewarded for this: D'Amato's committee bankrolled TV attacks against the Democratic opponents of Boschwitz, Pressler and Zimmer.

There's more Finkel-think to come. D'Amato's committee is financing an "independent expenditure" campaign that, by virtue of being technically unaffiliated, can avoid spending limits while pummeling Democrats with ads g.o.p. candidates can later disavow. Finkelstein has played this game for years. In 1986 a federal court ruled that his National Conservative Political Action Committee violated election laws because he worked for both a Senate candidate and the supposedly independent ncpac. The beauty of this arrangement, his late ncpac colleague Terry Dolan once explained, is that "a group like ours could lie through its teeth, and the candidate stays clean."


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