Flat-Tax King Is Back On Chicken-Pie Circuit

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The flat-tax guru is back.

Yes, magazine magnate Steve Forbes, who ran a self-financed $30 million campaign to win the Republican presidential nomination, is back on the hustings - this time trying to help the GOP and "like-minded" politicians.

Between now and election day, Mr. Forbes, who ran as "Mr. Outside" in the Republican primary fight, has pledged to attend 30 fund-raisers for apparent GOP nominee Bob Dole and the Republican National Committee. He has already been to six state party fund-raisers and helped eight money-raising congressmen. This week he will show up at 16 fund-raisers in nine states from Maine to Florida.

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"That's a lot of chicken-pie suppers," says Jill McDermott, campaign finance chief for Susan Sweetser, who is running for Congress from Vermont and will welcome Forbes to a breakfast fund-raiser on Thursday in Brattleboro.

Bill Dal Col, Forbes's former campaign manager, says the millionaire is just trying to be helpful. "This is a party-building effort," he announces. At a Monitor breakfast on June 28, Forbes coyly says his future in politics "depends on whether President Dole runs for reelection."

New York-based Republican strategist Jay Severin thinks that's a hoot. "Anyone who believes Steve Forbes is doing this exclusively for this election also believes in the tooth fairy," he counters. "This is building capital, building equity - something Forbes knows how to do," he says.

After he withdrew from the presidential campaign last March 14, Forbes disappeared from public view. But over the past month he has appeared on "Meet the Press," "This Week With David Brinkley," and some television business shows. And in an effort to make himself appear more personable (Forbes notes he has been called "charismatically challenged"), he has allowed himself to be laughed at on Jay Leno's show and "Saturday Night Live."

On the political front, Mr. Dal Col says Forbes is limiting his appearances to candidates with "like-minded philosophies and people who have been party loyalists." He has campaigned for Indiana's Rep. David McIntosh, Ohio's Rep. Frank Cremeans, and Senate challenger Ray Clatworthy, who is taking on Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware.

Finding full-fledged flat-taxers is not easy. On Wednesday, Forbes will be at a New York fund-raiser for Grant Lally, who is running for Congress against New York Democrat Gary Ackerman. Mr. Lally says he is in favor of a "modified" flat tax that would allow deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes. Forbes's flat tax does not allow any deductions.

Mrs. Sweetser, a tax lawyer, says she is "intrigued" but has her reservations about the flat tax, which could put her out of work if she is not successful in her campaign against US Rep. Bernard Sanders, an Independent. "I would like to think I'm resourceful enough to find another profession," she says.

Despite her concerns about the flat tax, she considers Forbes a good draw. Her campaign has lined up about 250 people who will pay $25 each to have breakfast with the magazine editor.

Forbes's message has barely changed from the campaign stump, where he continually repeated his message of "growth, hope, and opportunity." At the Monitor breakfast, he suggested the gross domestic product could grow at between 4 and 5 percent, or double the rate the Federal Reserve Board is aiming for.

Forbes believes his ideas will help Mr. Dole this November. He expects Dole to unveil a simplified tax plan with only two income-tax brackets during the GOP convention next month. He believes this may be Dole's only chance to beat President Clinton.

After his bruising primary fight with Dole, Forbes is doubtful he would be selected as a running mate. In fact, he's not even sure he will be speaking at the San Diego convention. "We have no specific plans," he says. Nevertheless, Mary Crawford, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, says the GOP is delighted to have Forbes back on the stump. "He's being very helpful," she says.

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