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Hillary Needs Classier Friends

By Froma Harrop

Sometimes I forget why the Clintons disturb me. Then they offer a reminder. Case in point are reports that one of Hillary Clinton's most pampered donors made big bucks off scams against the elderly.

Vinod Gupta heads infoUSA, a "list broker" that has been selling the names of elderly Americans to known con artists. In 2002, he flew the Clintons to a vacation in Acapulco on the company jet. The Omaha-based enterprise subsequently paid Bill Clinton more than $2 million in consulting fees. Gupta gave $1 million to his foundation.

The concern goes beyond the Clintons' decision to consort with such questionable personalities. That they would do it so openly magnifies long-festering discomfort over their judgment.

One recalls the dark days of the Lewinsky scandal, when people like me worked their darndest to drag Bill over the finish line of his last four years. We were not about to let the Republican leadership use a sex scandal as a pretense to overturn an election.

But then what does Clinton do? In his last hours on the job he pardons Marc Rich, a fugitive moneybags charged with more than 50 counts of fraud, racketeering and tax evasion. This was done unblushingly and without concern for how it might reflect on Hillary, whose political career was just taking off.

So should one regret having saved Bill Clinton's hide? Not one bit. We did it for the democracy. But let it be said that the sight of the pair finally vacating the White House provided much relief. As Hillary now runs for president and takes money tied to major-league creeps, that old sick feeling starts coming back.

None of this gives me any joy, because I generally like the Clintons' politics. Bill's presidency hit the high-water mark of fiscal responsibility. He hired competent bureaucrats and preserved the United States' good name in the world. And I have few problems with Hillary's modern progressive ideas, which, for someone running in the Democratic primaries, seem courageously centrist.

I also don't want to get into the business of scouring the ethics of every rich contributor and piling them onto candidates. But there are extremes of bad behavior that cannot be ignored. Giving the honcho at infoUSA a wide berth should have been an obvious decision.

What could be more despicable than selling data about vulnerable old people to telemarketers already under scrutiny for defrauding them? InfoUSA packaged the names under such labels as "Suffering Seniors," for elders with cancer or Alzheimer's disease. Another list, called "Oldies but Goodies," identified gamblers over the age of 55. "These people are gullible" is how it was advertised.

Crooked call centers from Canada to India bought these databases and proceeded to con lonely old Americans out of their life savings. It's against the law for list brokers to sell names to apparent criminal operations, but that did not deter infoUSA, according to the Iowa attorney general, who is investigating the company.

One victim was Richard Guthrie, a 92-year-old Iowa farmer. InfoUSA sold his name to a swindler who employed women to lure him into the spider's web by offering friendship over the phone.

"One gal in particular loved to hear stories about when I was younger," Guthrie later told a reporter. The sharks proceeded to drain at least $100,000 in savings, according to his family.

By now the story of Richard Guthrie is circulating widely around Iowa. At some point, Hillary's volunteers in that early primary state must wonder why they are sweating for a candidate whose careless fundraising makes their job so hard, if not futile.

Come on, Hillary, show a little more class.

Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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