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New Book Accuses Top Democrats Of Bad Behavior In '90s

A former fundraiser makes a number of serious claims about Democratic players like Terry McAuliffe and lobbyist Steve Elmendorf. McAuliffe and Elmendorf issued strong denials.

Last updated on July 3, 2018, at 12:56 p.m. ET

Posted on October 10, 2014, at 5:16 p.m. ET

Former Congressman Dick Gephardt
The LIFE Images Collection / Getty Terry Ashe

Former Congressman Dick Gephardt

WASHINGTON — A former Democratic fundraiser has written a tell-all book that accuses top figures in the party of shady activities in the 1990s.

Lindsay Lewis, who raised money for former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt in the 1990s, alleges in his forthcoming book Political Mercenaries a litany of unsavory doings in an era marked by fundraising scandals such as the sale of stays in the Lincoln Bedroom to donors and the DNC's scandal with illegal Chinese money. Lewis later became finance director for the DNC under Howard Dean before resigning in 2005.

The most serious accusations are made against former Gephardt insiders like chief of staff and current Washington lobbyist Steve Elmendorf, as well as current Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whom Lewis accuses of making a homophobic remark.

Lewis writes that Elmendorf passed out campaign money to members in the Capitol, which is now a violation of House rules:

In the middle of September of 1992, our office got a call from one of the postal workers' unions with a simple offer: They had $100,000 left to give from their PAC but wanted to give that money to incumbents who really needed it. O'Hanlon and the others gathered the names and sent the list, via fax machine, over to the Rural Letter Carriers of America. About two days later, the stack of fifty checks arrived to the office, some made out for $1,000, some for $5,000, and addressed to individual members. O'Hanlon told me to take that stack up to Steve Elmendorf in the Capitol. I was opposed to the thought of distributing political money in the Capitol, but I would do the job I was handed.

I watched as Steve ran the few feet from Gephardt's office and tried to track down every member he had a check for. Classic. He was currying fa- vor for himself with each and every member he handed a check to, though he had done nothing to raise the money.

Reached for comment, Elmendorf denied that this ever happened and said that the allegations are an attempt to get back at Elmendorf for passing over Lewis for a promotion in favor of Noah Mamet, who is now President Obama's nominee for ambassador to Argentina.

"The allegation he makes is not true," Elmendorf said. "It's clear he has a grudge against me because I didn't promote him. And it's also clear from his own behavior he describes in the book that I made the right decision."

Lewis writes in the book that McAuliffe, then a top fundraiser for the Democrats, said that he wouldn't have hired Elmendorf if he had known that he is gay.

Steve had joined Gephardt in 1992 after being Congressman Dennis Eckart's (D-OH) chief of staff. The Democratic Party still hadn't fully em- braced supporting gay rights, and in one of the first off-the-cuff conversations I had with Terry McAuliffe he told me that, 'had we known Steve was gay, we would have never hired him.' Terry, as with most Democrats, has updated his views and now supports gay rights, but at the time, Steve didn't fit in with Terry's boys' network.

McAuliffe's office sent more than one statement to BuzzFeed News denying that the exchange had happened and reaffirming McAuliffe's commitment to gay rights.

"That conversation didn't happen," said Jamie Radice, McAuliffe's communications director. "Steve Elmendorf and Governor McAuliffe have been good friends for many years and any suggestion otherwise is false. Both on the campaign trail and now in office, Gov. McAuliffe has fought for equality for gay and lesbian Virginians."

"Anyone who has actually worked for Gov. McAuliffe would know this is an absurd allegation designed to drive book sales," said Brennan Bilberry, McAuliffe's communications director in his last campaign, in an email with the subject line "McAuliffe gay employee comment." "McAuliffe has rightly been recognized as a champion for equal rights not just because of his actions as governor but because of his deep personal commitment to fairness that I experienced firsthand working for him."

BuzzFeed News also received a statement from Jason Rahlan, communications director of the Human Rights Campaign, who said:

"Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been a true champion of LGBT equality. In fact, his very first act as governor was to issue an executive order protecting Virginia's LGBT state employees from discrimination. That leadership continued, as McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring refused to defend Virginia's discriminatory marriage ban. And following this week's action by the Supreme Court, he has shown national leadership in implementing marriage equality with urgency across Virginia."

Elsewhere in the book, Lewis accuses Gephardt's team of having sold committee chairmanships to Democrats who gave $100,000 per cycle to the DCCC, and says that pieces of legislation had specific fundraising goals attached to them — a tax proposal was "worth $200,000 per member on the Ways and Means Committee," he writes. Lewis writes that after he left fundraising between working for Gephardt and, later, working at the DNC under Dean, he was so broke that he sold fake ecstasy pills to make ends meet.

Lewis, who now works at the Progressive Policy Institute, said in an interview that he stands by the allegations in his book.

"Well, it definitely happened, I remember handing the checks over at the Capitol to [Elmendorf]," Lewis said.

Lewis said it was "not true" that he had written the book as the result of a grudge against Elmendorf for not promoting him, but said that the choice of Mamet over him exemplified the move towards big money and away from labor that Lewis finds troubling.

"To me it was a big point in that this was sort of the decision that national money from individuals was the most important thing," Lewis said. "Whereas I was more knowledgeable working with labor and the typical Democratic donor."

As for McAuliffe, "You've got to remember this was a long time ago and it certainly was more of the mindset of where the Democratic Party was back then, and I think it shows how far it's come, with Terry fully embracing gay marriage in Virginia now."

Lewis said he was not worried about potential backlash to the book, which is being released on Oct. 21.

"I think it's an important story to tell," Lewis said. "This system's gotten out of control and Democrats rail against Republican money without acknowledging that they've played an equal if not bigger part in creating the problems we have with political money now."

"If the backlash comes, that's OK with me," Lewis said. "It's a story that I want out."