JEFFERSON CITY - U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft may not be able to buy-and-sell Microsoft's Bill Gates, but that didn't stop him from renting the billionaire out to other people.
But a soliticitation letter from The Linda Tripp Legal Defense Fund didn't just make it into the mailbox of Bill Gates, a $1,000 Ashcroft donor.
Guy Entsminger of Columbia gave $700 to an Ashcroft-controlled political action committee during the early part of 1999 and has been inundated with solicitations ever since.
"I'm getting more letters than I can handle," Entsminger said. He was surprised to receive a mailing from Linda Tripp last week. "I just threw it away," he said.
A Microsoft spokesman did not know if Gates recieved a letter from the defense fund, but said "We would have no comment on Bill's personal giving."
It turns out that Spirit of America PAC, formed to further Ashcroft's presidential ambitions, rented a list of donors to Tripp and earned about $2,500 in the process.
It is the timing of the transaction, not the policy of renting names, that has raised the ire of local Democrats.
Democratic Party officials say they have a problem with Ashcroft's vote to convict Clinton on articles of impeachment within days of receiving a payment from the trustees of Tripp's defense fund. Tripp is under indictment in Maryland for taping telephone conversations with Monica Lewinsky.
"Clearly, while Ashcroft was supposed to be an impartial juror he had a side deal with the prosecution's chief witness," said Maggie Thurman, a spokeswoman for the Missouri State Democratic Committee.
John Hancock, executive director of Missouri GOP, said renting donor names "is as common as breathing" and it's "hypocrisy" for the Democrats to challenge Ashcroft on this subject.
"Ashcroft had a responsibility to disclose, before the end of the trial, his relationship with Tripp and the money he received from her," said the chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party, Joe Carmichael, in a written release. "But, instead, he hid his association with Tripp until months after the Senate trial had ended."
But Hancock said he did not see anything wrong with the transaction. "This is the best thing that they could come up with?" he asked.
As for the specific organizations renting the donor list, Garrett Lott, the PAC's comptroller, said, "Ashcroft wouldn't know anyway."
Presidential hopefuls often form special committees, such as the Spirit of America PAC, to build goodwill in national political circles, Hancock said.
Donations are then transferred to other congressional candidates. Federal election records show that the recipients of Ashcroft's largesse include: the Missouri GOP, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., former-Sen. Al D'Amato, R-NY, and Rep. Helen Chenowith, R-Utah.
The PAC has about $100,000 in the bank, but no employees, Lott said.
Entsminger said he will not be adding anymore money to the Ashcroft kitty.
"I am really disappointed in how the Republicans are handling their fundraising," Entsminger said. "It seems as though if you make one contribution, five more letters come from other groups."