Gore Uses Shrugging Defense

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: When is a donation not a donation? That's the question the Senate campaign finance inquiry will be very keen to ask Al Gore when they reconvene today. Trouble is, the Vice President doesn't seem to know the answer. Two allegations of fund-raising faux pas emerged Wednesday, and in both cases Gore claimed to be utterly unaware of what he was doing. First of all, says the Veep, he didn't know an April 1996 event at a California Buddhist temple had been a fund-raiser. Secondly, some of that $695,000 he raised in those controversial White House phone calls were not "soft money," as Gore believed $120,000 went to "hard money" accounts at the DNC, making the calls highly naughty.

"The Vice President was not aware that money was being designated for the federal hard money account," DNC spokeswoman Amy Weiss Tobe said. Will the shrugging defense do the trick? TIME's campaign finance expert Michael Weisskopf says it might. "This will focus some more pressure on Janet Reno to name an independent investigator," he said, "but I think the explanation by Weiss Tobe is probably persuasive." So Al won't be sweating it out with the special prosecutors just yet.