Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Nov 5, 2007 in Politics | 3 comments

Fred Thompson Adviser With Criminal Record Resigns

Pundits continue to be split on actor and former Senator Fred Thompson’s bid for the 2008 Republican nomination.

Some think Thompson is using a folksy style that will make him the come-from-behind favorite for conservatives unhappy with their buffet of Presidential wannabes this year.

Others think that when it comes to running a high-powered Presidential campaign, Thompson couldn’t get arrested.

But now it turns out an advisor of his once was — or, rather, make that a FORMER adviser:

A top fundraiser with a criminal record for selling drugs resigned from the campaign of presidential hopeful Fred. D. Thompson today, and a spokesman for the candidate said Thompson would stop using the man’s private jet for campaign travel.

Philip J. Martin’s resignation as chairman of Thompson’s “First Day Founders” team of fundraisers came as the former Tennessee senator adopted a newly combative tone toward GOP rival Mike Huckabee during a New Hampshire campaign swing.

“The focus of this campaign should be on Fred Thompson’s positions on the issues and his outstanding leadership ability, not on mistakes I made some 24 years ago,” Martin, an Alabama developer, said in a statement released by Thompson’s campaign. “I deeply regret any embarrassment this has caused.”

Thompson has been a friend of Martin’s since the mid-1990s, aides said.

Martin pleaded guilty to the sale of 11 pounds of marijuana in 1979, the Washington Post reported Sunday. In 1983, Martin was charged with cocaine trafficking and conspiracy stemming from a plan to sell $30,000 worth of the drug, the newspaper reported. He pleaded no contest.

The story is indicative of what happens during Presidential campaigns. The statements of candidates are researched and old ones come back to haunt them. Advisers’ pasts are painstakingly examined. Smart politicos know that if someone close to them has a checkered past it’ll come out in the news media, be magnified on talk shows and be widely carried on internet news and opinion sources….and become a huge political deal (whether it is or not).

Does it matter? To a certain degree: it shows the care (or lack of it) with which candidates select those around them. And Thompson’s response? A mix of acceptance of reality and loyalty towards a friend:

Thompson said Sunday that he would not “throw my friend under the bus for something he did, you know, 25 years ago, if he’s OK now.” Thompson expressed concern today about his friend’s welfare amid the publicity about his criminal record.

“I have not personally talked to him yet, but mutual friends have talked to him,” Thompson told Fox News in an interview here after a breakfast speech. “I wanted to make sure that he was OK, primarily, so it’s more of a personal thing right now.”

The problem when a candidate doesn’t take care to prevent his opponents from getting an opening is that his foes will take the opening — and try to widen it. Take the DNC, for instance:

Fred Thompson’s failure to look at Phil Martin’s background before naming him his campaign fundraising co-chairman simply because he’s a “longtime friend” raises serious doubts about Fred Thompson’s judgment. And Martin’s resignation now leaves many questions unanswered about what Fred Thompson knew and when he knew it.

….. ABC revealed today that not only was his close campaign adviser convicted of selling drugs and illegal gambling, but the IRS, Tennessee and more than 12 other states have filed liens for unpaid taxes against Martin and his former businesses as recently as 2002. These revelations question the credibility of Thompson’s excuse that he knew nothing of Martin’s recent legal troubles……

Thompson still refuses to say whether he will continue to use Martin’s jet for campaign travel, a perk that’s saved his campaign at least $120,000 so far, and has refused to return any money the convicted felon donated or raised for his campaign.

“The fact that Fred Thompson was relying on advice from a convicted drug dealer, illegal gambler and tax cheat until he was forced to resign raises serious questions about Fred’s judgment and values. Is this the type of vetting process we’d see in a Thompson White House?” asked Democratic National Committee Press Secretary Stacie Paxton. “Americans deserve a president who will bring honest leadership back to Washington, not four more years of the Republican Culture of Corruption.”

But Thompson isn’t the only candidate who might benefit from a crash course in how to vet:

Martin, 49, is one of several top political fundraisers with a criminal past to gain access this year to a presidential contender. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton decided in September to return more than $800,000 raised by Norman Hsu, one of her top bundlers, after newspapers disclosed that he had been convicted of fraud and had an outstanding warrant for his arrest.

And, of course, there is also former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another GOP Presidential hopeful, who has had (and has) a teenie-weenie political problem with a former political underling and protege named Bernard Kerik.

Thompson may revise his response in coming days, the Democrats may go back on the attack…and this story is unlikely to linger.

But there will likely be a net result: look for campaigns to be more careful than ever that they don’t provide the press, their foes and eager bloggers material for more “GOTCHA!” moments.