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Controversy over Hart campaign funds puts him in the hot seat. Candidate says he'll take the heat

Presidential candidate Gary Hart was campaigning in New Hampshire Thursday - an unusually warm winter day. But the former Democratic senator from Colorado was feeling another kind of heat. He told a woman who commented that she would like to see more in the news media about his ideas than his problems: ``The Miami Herald has another story about a young man who was trying to help us out. ... All the focus is on that story. What I challenge the Miami newspaper to do is print my budget, print my ideas. ...''

Mr. Hart was referring to allegations that the finance committees for his 1984 and '88 presidential bids may have evaded federal limits on campaign contributions.

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The questions center around California videotape producer Stuart Karl, who reportedly made in-kind contributions to the Hart campaigns. Questions have also been raised as to whether certain businesses provided services to the Hart campaigns with no intention of being reimbursed.

``Obviously a candidate cannot know every detail,'' Hart said Wednesday. But he added: ``I will hold myself responsible for whatever happened.''

The Miami Herald, which earlier staked out Hart's Washington town house on a tip that he was spending the weekend with model Donna Rice, alleged in a story Wednesday that Mr. Karl personally covered 1984 convention debts of $15,000 for Hart, provided private jets and helicopters for Hart and his staff, and in 1986 placed Hart advance man Dennis Walto on his company's payroll at $3,000 a month. (Mr. Walto told reporters in Des Moines that he was strictly a volunteer on Hart's campaign.)

If individuals assigned by employers to work on a presidential campaign exceed one hour a week the excess time must, under federal election law, be listed as an in-kind contribution. Individual donations, including in-kind contributions, are limited to $1,000 per candidate.

In a statement released late Wednesday, Hart campaign manager Sue Casey said, ``Any contributions or any arrangements that appear to violate even the spirit of the law are unacceptable. Senator Hart expects his campaign staff and supporters to conform to the highest ethical standards.''

Ms. Casey says campaign workers were aware that Walto was employed by Mr. Karl or his firm, but she notes that there was no active campaign, campaign organization, or campaign staff during that period in 1986.

Federal Election Commission spokesman Fred Eiland says federal campaign laws take effect as soon as a serious candidate begins ``testing the waters.''

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Casey acknowledged that Hart's 1984 convention staff had an agreement with Karl to provide ``a range of services, from video production to rally promotion. ...'' Mr. Karl billed the campaign for $96,000 and later settled for 10 cents on the dollar, according to FEC records.

``We all worry that something is going to happen,'' says a finance official from another campaign, ``You can't have a police force out there policing thousands of volunteers. It's a self-policing mechanism.''

Bob Edgar, finance director for the campaign of Sen. Paul Simon (D) of Illinois, agrees. ``It's just real hard to keep a focus.... You can even get a $1,000 contribution from somebody who has been in prison. We don't have a computer system that can go and do pedigree checks on everybody who has made a contribution.''

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