|The Ron Carey Campaign
Teamsters Brace for Ruling On Carey Election Eligibility
By Frank Swoboda
Armed with subpoena power, a former federal judge has been trying to sort out whether Teamsters President Ron Carey should be allowed to participate in a government-ordered rerun election, or whether a fund-raising scandal surrounding his 1996 campaign should disqualify him from seeking the post again.
That decision by Kenneth Conboy is likely this week, with the clock ticking on the rerun vote that will decide the leadership of the 1.4 million-member union. Candidates are required to file by Nov. 20. Those who were on a slate with Carey last year are anxiously awaiting the ruling -- which Conboy said he would make by mid-November -- since a new head of the ticket would have to be found if Carey is disqualified.
There also is talk within the union of quickly putting together an entirely new ticket if Carey is disqualified. Some Carey backers fear that no one else carries the clout to defeat rival James P. Hoffa, who lost to Carey last year by 17,000 votes.
Conboy's ruling, based on his review of Carey's possible involvement in the scandal, will be the latest in a series of government actions that have thrown the union into political turmoil.
A federal elections officer overturned Carey's narrow 1996 election victory over Hoffa and ordered the rerun after three Carey campaign officials pleaded guilty to their part in what the government described as a "complex network of schemes" to illegally funnel employer and general union funds into Carey's campaign.
Elections officer Barbara Zack Quindel ruled at the time that there was no evidence to link Carey to the schemes and rejected Hoffa's demand that Carey be disqualified from running in the new election.
But in late September, citing new evidence, Quindel said she would take another look at the disqualification issue. Quindel resigned shortly after making that decision, citing a potential conflict of interest, and Conboy was appointed to make the ruling.
The campaign financing scandal threatens to spread to the AFL-CIO, other unions and the Democratic National Committee as a federal grand jury in New York continues its investigation of the 1996 union election. At the heart of the investigation are allegations that the Carey campaign used union money to make contributions to outside organizations in exchange for donations to the Carey campaign. It is illegal for other unions or any employer to make financial contributions to a union election campaign.
Citizen Action, a liberal advocacy group, recently closed its Washington operation after donations dried up because of the group's alleged involvement in the money-laundering scheme. The three campaign officials who have pleaded guilty claim that the union gave nearly $500,000 to Citizen Action in exchange for Citizen Action soliciting money for the Carey campaign.
The Teamsters' three-member Independent Review Board, which includes former FBI director William Webster, also is looking into the 1996 election scandal. The board has the power to remove anyone from Teamsters membership it considers to have brought "reproach upon the union."
Meanwhile, candidates in last year's election are gearing up for the new vote, to be conducted by mail from Feb. 16 through March 17.
The election outlook has been muddied by U.S. District Judge David Edelstein, who has been overseeing the union under a 1989 consent agreement the union signed to settle a civil racketeering suit brought by the Justice Department. In approving procedures for the new election, Edelstein has ruled that it is "in the best interest of the election process [that] previously slated candidates remain with their respective slates." Thus, a candidate who ran on the Carey or Hoffa slates in last year's elections cannot jump ship and help form a new slate. Only candidates new to this election may form a different slate.
In the event Carey is disqualified, Edelstein's ruling could play into Hoffa's hands, strategists in both camps said. Carey backers insist that a number of candidates on Hoffa's slate don't really care much for Hoffa, but dislike Carey even more. If Carey is disqualified, they might have been persuaded to jump ship and form a unity slate with some of Carey's supporters. But under Edelstein's ruling, they must stay with Hoffa.
The Carey slate, meanwhile, would have to run someone else at the head of the ticket. But his backers insist there is no one as well known as Carey to lead them. And if Carey is disqualified for involvement in the illegal financing schemes, his former running mates would be stripped of their ability to run as reformers.
Ken Paff, director of Teamsters for a Democratic Union and a key Carey backer in both 1991 and 1996, said he does not believe Carey will be disqualified. But if he is, Paff admits it will be hard to beat Hoffa. "I think we're going to need a reform ticket," Paff said.