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Ex-staff sour on Bauer

National | Angered by his refusal to admit any wrongdoing, former Bauer campaign staffers explain why they left and what gave rise to charges of impropriety with a young aide. The complaints frustrate Bauer, who maintains it's nothing more than a matter of perceptions

Issue: "The harvest of abortion," Oct. 23, 1999

in Washington - On September 29, as Gary Bauer stared down the television cameras to deny rumors of an affair, a handful of former staffers stared back at their TV screens in disbelief. One by one, they had been quietly dropping out of the campaign for weeks. They had their reasons, but they were keeping quiet. In fact, a major national columnist had made dozens of calls for weeks before the press conference, trying to find someone-anyone-who would talk. In the days following that media showdown, the wall of silence began to crack. "I don't like to see him being like Clinton," said one former staffer in an exclusive interview with WORLD. "Gary is a good guy. I don't want to hurt him. But I do think the record should be set straight." Angered by what they perceived as a whitewash in the press conference, more and more sources began to talk. When it was all over, WORLD had interviewed more than a dozen sources, including eight disaffected staffers, a fundraiser, an intern, two board members, three present campaign officials, and Mr. Bauer himself. Everyone voiced dismay and disappointment that the matter had gotten so out of control. But among the former staff workers, there was something else: a sense of crushed idealism and shattered hopes. Charlie Jarvis, the former manager of the campaign, remembers the appeal that made it such a magnet for talented young idealists who wanted to remake society: "Gary said he was going to have a new paradigm for campaigning-one that was above reproach in every way, one that was based on the Word. It was to be a paradigm that would be remembered forever." Promises like that lured a staff of about 25 to the Bauer campaign headquarters in Springfield, Va., just outside Washington. Almost without exception, those staffers came from just three sources: the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, and the Campaign for Working Families, Mr. Bauer's political action committee. Armed with impeccable evangelical credentials and fired by personal loyalty to the candidate, they joined a long-shot campaign and worked grueling hours for relatively little pay. According to FEC filings, the average monthly salary in the Bauer shop was $3,500. But averages, of course, can be deceiving. Senior staff members generally earned around $5,000 per month, while lower-level workers pulled in just half that. The divide between senior and junior staff was clear in other ways as well, the most important being access to the candidate. Clear, that is, except when it came to Melissa McClard. As a mid-level person in the finance department, she would have fallen into the "junior staff" category based on the organizational chart. Her salary-roughly $800 a month below the average-indicated the same status. But then there was her access to Mr. Bauer. As early as May, other staffers began to notice the long meetings between the candidate and the blond, attractive 27-year-old. "They occurred almost every day when he wasn't out traveling," says one former aide. "They would last for long periods of time-two or three hours." "Every waking moment he began to spend with her," according to another. Sometimes the meetings took place in his office, often in hers-so often, in fact, that when staffers had a question or a problem, and the candidate was nowhere to be found, Miss McClard's office was the first place they looked. All the campaign sources agreed that was unusual, since even senior staffers normally were summoned to Mr. Bauer's office for meetings. "This was way, way, way out of character in terms of his professional, day-to-day protocol," an aide insists. "I don't think there's one person at the national headquarters who didn't at least raise an eyebrow or who it didn't affect," says one staffer. "There were times when his own senior staff couldn't get to him because he was meeting with her." In the words of another former aide: "Everyone from the campaign manager down to the summer interns noticed and talked about it. It had a devastating impact on morale." There were other signs, as well. Sources say Mr. Bauer increasingly requested that Miss McClard accompany him on trips, even though her position didn't seem to warrant such travel. "She had no reason to travel with him; no more than I would," says one junior aide. When she wasn't on the campaign trail with him, Mr. Bauer still managed to keep in frequent touch. "He would call her late at night. He would call in from the road and have her paged two or three times a day," says an aide. In some campaigns, such behavior would be winked at by the staff and covered up for the public. But the Bauer staffers liked to think they were running a campaign based on scriptural principles. So when they took offense with a brother's actions, they did what Scripture would have them do: They went to him privately to express their concerns. Of the eight campaign workers interviewed by WORLD, four say they objected directly to Mr. Bauer-some more than once. Two junior staffers without direct access to the candidate voiced concerns to their supervisor, while another simply kept things to herself. The eighth refused to say whether he spoke to Mr. Bauer, for fear it might identify him. Advice started to come from other, higher sources as well. Two nights before the Iowa straw poll-"the biggest day of his political life," in the words of one supporter-Mr. Bauer got a late-night phone call in Des Moines. Charlie Jarvis was on the line, along with FRC board members Lee Eaton and Larry Smith. Mr. Eaton remembers the conversation well: "I said, 'Gary I think what you need to do is get this girl a job somewhere and get her out of there.'" Mr. Jarvis, the campaign manager, threatened to quit on the spot if that didn't happen. Facing the threat of a public-relations disaster on the eve of the straw poll, the two board members talked Mr. Jarvis into staying. But the subject of Miss McClard's role was still far from settled. Mr. Eaton says he FedExed Mr. Bauer a handwritten letter that awaited him on his return from Iowa. "I said, 'You're Gary Bauer, and even though this may be normal in every other campaign, you have to hold to a higher standard,'" he recalls. "I was very emphatic." While a surprisingly strong fourth-place finish in Ames gave the Bauer campaign its first real traction, morale behind the scenes continued to slip. An assistant to Mr. Bauer was the first to quit. On Aug. 28, two weeks after the straw poll, Mr. Jarvis finally made good on his threat to leave, eventually going to the Forbes campaign as an unpaid adviser. Next to walk was Mr. Bauer's advance man, Tim McDonald. Seven more staffers would exit in the coming weeks, including Betty Barrett, Mr. Bauer's personal secretary of 15 years. And another-possibly bigger-problem faced the campaign: Donations threatened to take a hit as a result of the controversy. Steve May, a North Carolina business owner and long-time financial backer, called Mr. Bauer on Sept. 2 to complain about his relationship with Miss McClard. He pointed out that in his company, male and female employees traveling together to a distant city were required to rent separate cars, in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Mr. May remembers the response: "'According to your rules, we'll be the party of the gender gap.' I said, 'Gary, so be it.'" Shaken by Mr. Bauer's attitude, Mr. May canceled fundraisers he had planned to hold in Charlotte and Raleigh. "I said, 'As long as you're not fixing the problem, I'm out.'" Weeks later-after all the rumors and departures, after the press conference and the talk shows-Mr. Bauer seems genuinely bewildered by a scandal he never saw coming. "I find this so frustrating," he told WORLD from a hotel room in New Hampshire. "I'm the only candidate out there with a 20-year record of being right on the issues. Yet I'm bogged down in a matter of perceptions.... With all that's at stake in this election, is this what Christian voters are going to be pondering for the next six months?" He insists that only a handful of aides complained to him personally about their objections to Miss McClard-and then only late in the game. He didn't change anything, he says, because he was certain he hadn't done anything wrong. He says his relationship with Miss McClard was professional but undeniably friendly: She was a friend of his 21-year-old daughter Elyse and a frequent guest at family dinners. And despite her place on the organizational chart, he viewed the 27-year-old as a frank critic and trusted sounding board. By July, he says, that was exactly what he needed. "There were all the typical battles going on in the campaign for power and control and so forth," he recalls wearily. "Charlie [Jarvis] was right next door to my office, and I was already deeply suspicious of his loyalties. The office space that we're in, there isn't much chance for privacy. The walls are paper-thin.... So I would sometimes walk down to the end of the hallway to [Melissa's] office." He admits that he spent long hours there, but insists they weren't alone. A press person would walk in, discuss a problem for 20 minutes, and then leave. A few minutes later, a fundraiser would drop by to go over a direct-mail project. "People came in and out frequently," Mr. Bauer says. "For someone who just saw me go into the office, and never saw all of the other [traffic], they might conclude we'd been in there alone for hours. But that wasn't the case." In his own mind, he was completely convinced of his innocence. Supporters say that may have clouded his judgment when people began to complain about appearances. "He's dead tired. He's trying to get a million things done. People are raising concerns that he thinks are absurd, and maybe he didn't respond as sensitively as he should have," says Larry Smith, another FRC board member who now calls Mr. Bauer weekly as part of an accountability group. The early advice on how to squelch the rumors may also have caused him to dig in. After hearing complaints from Charlie Jarvis and other aides, many of Mr. Bauer's closest friends and spiritual advisers were suggesting the same thing: Fire Miss McClard. Lee Eaton, for one, had recommended exactly that, both on the phone and in writing. Initially he says he was angry when Mr. Bauer steadfastly refused to take his advice. "Gary said, 'Melissa has done nothing wrong. I can't punish her just because people are accusing her of things unfairly. Elyse is a professional woman: Am I going to send her a message that because you're young and you're attractive, you're going to be penalized? That's not right.' "As I thought about it, I realized this is the Gary Bauer that I respect so much.... One of the reasons I think he ought to be president of the United States is that he's not a pragmatist. He's not going to betray what he believes in just to make people happy or get a few points in the polls." Certain that firing an innocent woman was morally wrong, Mr. Bauer apparently failed to consider other, less drastic options for putting an end to the rumors. Those options may never have been presented to him: None of the campaign sources interviewed by WORLD said they had recommended specific steps when they complained to the candidate about what they considered improper appearances. Still, as the rumors intensified and frustrated staffers began to abandon ship, the campaign did find ways to allay suspicions. When Elyse Bauer returned to Washington after a month in Iowa, her office was moved two doors down from her father's. Carol Bauer also took a much more visible role in her husband's campaign: While sources are unanimous that she rarely showed up at headquarters throughout the summer, beginning in September she came into the office every day. Miss McClard was elevated to deputy campaign manager, a position more worthy of frequent meetings with the candidate. And, famously, Mr. Bauer ordered a glass door for his office. For the growing list of former Bauer staffers, those moves were too little, too late. Although every one of them believes strongly that their boss never had an affair, they remain deeply disillusioned by the way he responded-or failed to respond-to their warnings. "It took me a long time to finally admit that there was something wrong," says one former staffer. "It's a hard thing to come to grips with because you feel let down.... I thought he'd be shocked to hear that anybody even thought of him that way, [and] I was disappointed that he didn't want to be more careful, given the whole Monica scandal." "He knew that people were concerned," says another. "He knew that it was causing division on the staff, and he let it go on.... I poured my heart and soul into this for nine months, and I just never in my wildest dreams thought this could happen." In the end, the hard-and-cold body count may prove more damaging than shadows and whispers. Nearly half of Mr. Bauer's Washington campaign staff has already left, and more defections are likely in the coming days. Almost without exception, those resignations could have been prevented. The candidate's moral qualifications are intact, but his managerial skills are very much in question. For more than six months Mr. Bauer allowed a power struggle among top aides, dividing the loyalty of the staff. He felt besieged in his own office, yet instead of firing the aide he suspected of treason, he retreated down the hall to the office of a female staffer. He promised that staffer a major promotion with more power, but never anticipated how a 27-year-old might use that information with her fellow employees. Over a matter of three months, morale plummeted and suspicion mounted. Yet Mr. Bauer insists the turmoil of the past three weeks caught him by surprise. Mr. Bauer complains of a double standard in American politics: that he, as an evangelical Christian, is judged by a different set of criteria than other presidential candidates. But he might want to be careful what he wishes for. As chief executive, the president is expected to manage the vast federal bureaucracy-that black hole into which endless tax dollars are sucked. Judging from the disarray within his campaign, if voters start weighing Mr. Bauer's management skills in the balance, he'll be found wanting. Until he can get his office in Springfield together, he may not be ready to move across the Potomac.

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