Democrats Hold Support for Ambassador Nominee Over Swift Boat Contribution

Democrats are raising concerns about President Bush's nominee for ambassador to Belgium because he gave money to the group that impugned Sen. John Kerry's war record during the 2004 presidential campaign.

With a vote set Wednesday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said Tuesday he opposes the nomination of St. Louis businessman Sam Fox because Fox "refused to apologize for his behavior" during a confirmation hearing last month.

"U.S. ambassadors need to be both responsible and credible, and Mr. Fox's support for an organization known to have spread falsehoods illustrates neither," said Dodd, who is seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Fox, one of the nation's most prominent Republican fundraisers, made a $50,000 contribution to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Many Democrats blamed the group for sinking Kerry's presidential bid after it aired a series of TV ads that claimed Kerry, D-Mass., did not deserve his Vietnam War medals.

Eleven of Kerry's Vietnam crew mates sent a letter Tuesday urging committee members to oppose Fox's nomination. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

"In our judgment, those who finance smears and lies of combat veterans don't deserve to represent America on the world stage," the letter said.

Fox, 77, of St. Louis, is national chairman of the Jewish Republican Coalition and has donated well over $1 million to Republican candidates and causes since the 1990s, according to Federal Election Commission records. Bush's re-election campaign deemed him a "ranger" for helping to raise at least $200,000 in 2004.

Kerry grilled Fox about the Swift Boat contribution during the Feb. 27 hearing, asking him why he gave money to a group that was "smearing and spreading lies" and had been condemned by members of both political parties.

Fox replied that he considers Kerry a hero. But he refused to call the contribution a mistake.

"When I'm asked, I just generally give," Fox told Kerry.

Fox has not backed down in a series of written responses to Kerry since the hearing.

"Senator Kerry and other members of the committee still have questions for Mr. Fox, and it's fair to say the concerns raised during the February 27 hearing haven't vanished," Kerry spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.

Complicating matters is the presence of three Democratic presidential hopefuls on the committee — the chairman, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.; and Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Dodd.

At the end of the hearing last month, Obama told Fox he found his testimony "somewhat unsatisfying."

"I would have preferred you saying, you know, 'In retrospect, looking back, contributing to the Swift Boat campaign was a mistake and I wish I hadn't done it,"' Obama told Fox.

Fox has garnered the public support of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., both of whom testified for him.