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Kerry goes after Sam Fox at confirmation hearing

Sam Fox
Sam Fox


Washington, DC – St. Louis businessman Sam Fox got a grilling Tuesday from Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Fox was supposed to have an easy confirmation process in the U.S. Senate to become the nation's new ambassador to Belgium.

But Kerry criticized Fox for donating money to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential race, which Kerry lost.

The group was widely condemned for claiming Kerry didn't deserve the medals he received in the Vietnam War.

Fox said he just gave money and had no part in crafting the group's message. But Kerry says the incident raises questions about whether Fox is qualified to be ambassador.

Specifically, Kerry wanted to know why Fox onated $50,000 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential race.

"Might I ask you what your opinion is with respect to the state of American politics as regards the politics of personal destruction?" Kerry asked near the end of Fox's hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Fox, one of the nation's most generous contributors to Republican candidates and causes, said he shared Kerry's concerns that politics "has become mean and destructive."

Fox said he didn't recall who asked him to give to the group and blamed partisans on both sides for contributing to so-called 527 groups that are not subject to conventional campaign finance rules.

"So is that your judgment that you would bring to the ambassadorship, that two wrongs make a right?" Kerry asked.

"I did it because politically it's necessary if the other side's doing it," Fox said.

Fox said he played no part in crafting the Swift Boat message and called on Congress to ban or more carefully regulate 527s.

But Kerry said the incident raised questions about Fox's fitness to serve as an ambassador.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who chaired Tuesday's hearing, said he found Fox's responses "unsatisfying."

Obama, who is running for president, said he would have preferred if Fox admitted it was a mistake to contribute to the Swift Boat group.

Fox, 77, is founder and chairman of the Clayton, Mo.-based Harbour Group. He is one of the top individual donors to the Republican Party and was deemed a "pioneer" by President Bush's campaign for helping raise at least $100,000.

When Bush nominated Fox for the ambassador post last month, he was expected to be easily confirmed by the full Senate. It was not immediately clear whether Kerry's concerns would jeopardize Fox's chances.

The back-and-forth between Kerry and Fox overshadowed the early part of the hearing, in which a bipartisan group of lawmakers offered Fox glowing reviews. Fox's wife, Marilyn, and his five children, along with their families, also attended the hearing.

Missouri Sens. Kit Bond, a Republican, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, praised Fox as a classic American success story who rose from modest means. Fox's charity donates millions of dollars each year to more than 150 different charities.

"He is a dedicated man who's spent his life pursuing projects that enrich our communities and our families," Bond said.

Former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., said Fox would bring to the job "the same energy, the same personal qualities, the same spirit of generosity, the same kindness, the same decency that are right at the heart of Sam Fox."

Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., also testified enthusiastically for Fox.

After Kerry's questions, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said "it would be a terrible shame" to disqualify someone because of political contributions they made during an election.