His business clients were among the party's most generous benefactors. And it was Knight who wrote up many of the "call sheets" prepared for the Vice President's dialing-for-dollars sessions currently under investigation by the Justice Department.
Now, new records obtained by TIME show that two companies for which Knight helped win big contracts at the Energy Department found a novel way of showing gratitude to the Vice President — call it Gore's campus connection.
In 1994, Gore wanted to set up a chair for his late sister at the University of Tennessee. But he needed $500,000 to establish an endowment. Knight, who ran congressional offices for Gore, knew where to find it. In March, 1994, two days before the Energy Department granted $9 million in research funds to Molten Metal Technology, its chairman donated $50,000 to the Nancy Gore Hunger Chair of Excellence in Global Environmental Studies. Knight, then actively lobbying the department for what was a nine-fold increase in the grants, thanked Molten chairman Bill Haney in a March 14 letter, calling the chair a "very personal priority for the Vice President" and adding, "I can assure you that your contribution will never be forgotten." Spokesmen for Gore, Knight, and Haney all deny any connection between the donations made on Nancy Gore's behalf and the increased grants.
The Energy Department grants to Molten Metal eventually reached $33 million, money parceled out over three years over the objection of some government scientists. But the favorable treatment bestowed on the firm did not end there. Well-publicized plant visits by Gore and the department's environmental cleanup czar, Thomas Grumbly, sent its stock sharply higher. Knight helped land a $460,000 contract for the company to demonstrate its toxic waste neutralizing technology at a government laboratory, congressional investigators say. And Haney was a frequent guest at the White House and the Vice President's mansion. He, his firm and its officers raised or contributed $130,000 towards the Democratic Party and the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign managed by Knight.
At the Energy department, Knight appears to have had an open door to Grumbly, who had worked for Gore in his congressional days. Records show extensive contacts between Knight, Haney and Grumbly.
Knight had similar success for another Energy Department contractor, Lockheed Martin, which understands the political byways of Washington — and the campus connection. In 1995 and 1996, while the company was receiving extensions in its $40 million-a-year fee to manage the Oak Ridge, Tenn. research facility, it donated $50,000 to the Nancy Gore Hunger chair.
The extensions roughly coincided with Lockheed's donation of $140,000 to Democrats. A Lockheed spokesman said there was no connection between the company's contributions and the contract extensions.
The Haney and Lockheed gifts were among the largest of the $1 million raised by Gore and the university for the chair established 10 years after Nancy Gore Hunger died of lung cancer.
The Vice President formally set up the endowment May 2, 1994 in a ceremony at the Knoxville campus. He wrote Haney inviting him to the event and thanking him "from the bottom of my heart" for the contribution. In the margin was a handwritten note: "Thanks Bill! You will never know how much this means to me. You are a great friend."