GOP ACCUSED OF
PLAYING POLITICS WITH BALCO
By Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross
These days everything is political
-- so it should come as no surprise that the crackdown on steroids in sports is
producing some political fireworks.
At issue here: the nonprofit
anti-doping agency leading the crackdown on Olympic athletes, and its very
interesting Republican ties.
It's all igniting with the U.S.
Anti-Doping Agency's recent decision to pursue a case against Olympic sprinter
superstar Marion Jones, based on government evidence from the BALCO steroid
"I don't have a problem with
(the agency) targeting high-profile athletes if they are cheating,'' said Bob
Weiner, who served as spokesman for the White House drug policy under President
"But you can't target people
who are innocent and try to make them guilty, and with the specifics of the
Marion Jones case that seems to be happening.''
The anti-doping agency thinks it
has plenty of reasons to go after Jones, the five-time Olympic medalist, and
they have nothing to do with politics.
The feds found a folder in a
September raid on BALCO that had Jones' name and a calendar that looked like a
scheduled use of banned drugs.
She had a longtime association with
BALCO boss Victor Conte, and shot- putter ex-husband C.J. Hunter was banned
from the Sydney Games in 2000 for using banned substances.
Jones insists she's never used
To Weiner -- who isn't involved in
Jones' case -- and some of the sprinter's supporters, one of the problems is
that the anti-doping agency has become "a Republican tool'' in its agenda
to crusade against drugs.
Records show that the nonprofit
received nearly $7 million last year -- or about two-thirds of its funding --
from a grant dispensed by the White House Office of National Drug Control
The anti-doping agency hired the
American Continental Group, a high- powered Washington law firm with big
Republican credentials, to help lobby for federal funding, both from the White
House and Congress.
Lobbying reports show that the
anti-doping agency paid American Continental $78,124 in 2002, and between
$60,000 and $100,000 last year.
At the same time, the firm's two
lawyers assigned to the agency, Shawn Smeallie and David Metzner, are both
"Pioneers" when it comes to donations to President Bush. That means
they're among the elite who have raised more than $100,000 apiece for the
Against that backdrop, both Bush
and the U.S. Justice Department, led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, have
launched a public campaign against steroid use.
The first hit came in January, when
Bush used his State of the Union address to call on baseball players and owners
"to send the right signal to get tough, and get rid of steroids now.''
A month later, Ashcroft, in what
critics said was an unorthodox step, held a press conference in Washington to
announce the indictments in the BALCO case -- including charges against Giants
slugger Barry Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson.
Some of the evidence gathered by
the Justice Department has been turned over to a congressional committee headed
by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The committee, in turn, released the
documents to the anti-doping agency, which is using some of that information to
try to make drug cases against Jones and other athletes.
"In all my years I've been
involved here, I've never seen the Justice Department turn over records the way
they did here,'' says Don Goldberg, a veteran congressional investigator who
was hired to help defend accused Olympic hopeful Tim Montgomery, Jones'
boyfriend. "It just smells of politics all the way.''
Smeallie, who lobbied for the
anti-doping agency, called Goldberg's accusations "a bit of a reach.''
First off, Smeallie said, the White
House wanted to budget just $1.5 million a year for the agency, and it took the
efforts of Congress to get the group's funding increased.
What's more, he says, the BALCO
case started blowing up before his group ever got involved.
"It has nothing to do with
funding,'' Smeallie said. "This is big-time stuff -- I think they would
have been criticized if they didn't try to go after this because it was so
Finally, Smeallie said, "We
never had a meeting in the White House about this. ... To this day, I don't
know how it got into the State of the Union.''
Smeallie's fellow lawyer Metzner
called the allegations "grossly mistaken. ''
As for the anti-doping agency?
"(It) treats all athletes equally,'' agency spokesman Rich Wanniger said in a statement. "(The agency) is dedicated to preserving the well-being of Olympic sport, the integrity of competition, and ensuring the health of athletes.''