Democratic front runner Bill Clinton turned the tables on rival Jerry Brown in a debate on Saturday, accusing the former California governor of hypocrisy on the issue of campaign contributions.
A week after Brown accused Clinton of funneling money as governor of Arkansas to his wife's law firm, Clinton accused Brown's law firm of taking "$178,000 in taxpayer money for defeating California contribution limits."It came at the very end of a 90-minute debate in a Buffalo movie theater and it prompted Brown to grab the microphone and demand more time, claiming he had no chance to answer Clinton's new allegations and challenging him to another debate "in Harlem at the Apollo Theater."
Clinton later turned down the challenge, telling reporters, "We've got more than enough debates."
The outburst triggered by Clinton came after a debate that was generally low-key. The usually combative Brown made no new personal attacks on Clinton.
It was the first debate since the withdrawal last week of former Sen. Paul Tsongas, a move that made Clinton the prohibitive Democratic front runner.
"We're coming down now to a two-person race," Brown said. "It's going to be a difficult race. It's not going to be won just on competing personalities. Its one of competing visions."
Then he paused and said of Clinton, "He has a very good personality. I wouldn't want to take that away from him."
When Clinton's turn came to give his final summation, he accused Brown of hypocrisy in refusing to accept contributions of more than $100 apiece.
"Governor Brown says this is a race between two people," Clinton said. "It's also a race between slogans that sound good and new ideas and new leadership. By his own admission, he was still shaking the money tree in the 1980s when I was out working for real political reform."
"In 1990, Gov. Brown testified in California against limits on campaign contributons and his law firm got $178,000 in taxpayer money defeating the California contribution limit," he added.
California voters in 1988 passed a limit on California contributions of $1,000. State legislative leaders and other officials opposed the ruling and hired Brown's law firm to challenge it legally, according to Clinton aides.
Brown, then state party chairman, testified against the limits, said Clinton spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers.
At their last debate, one in Chicago last Sunday night, Brown had accused Clinton of funneling money to the law firm in which his wife, Hillary, is a partner. Clinton angrily denied the accusation, and party leaders later jumped on Brown, claiming that his charges were misleading and not factual.
Saturday's exchange came as the two candidates shared the stage at the Shea Theater in Buffalo at a Democratic forum with two minor candidates, former Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy and former Irvine, Calif., Mayor Larry Agran.
Both Brown and Clinton are campaigning actively in New York in advance of the April 7 primary and its bonus of 242 delegates, and in Connecticut, which votes on Tuesday.
McCarthy, the 1968 Democratic contender and longtime peace activist, joked: "This is the highest ranking Democratic organization that has let me talk to it in 20 years."