WASHINGTON -- Top White House talent employed by the taxpayers is helping Democrat Al Gore write his campaign speeches, work up attacks against rival George W. Bush's budget and develop everything from crime-fighting proposals to health and education reforms.
Gene Sperling, head of President Clinton's National Economic Council, and Bruce Reed, chief White House domestic policy adviser, and scores of lower-level aides are lending their expertise -- legally, Gore's presidential campaign notes -- on their own free time.
Good-government watchdogs wince at the overlap.
''These guys are dropping any pretense of a separation between campaign and government. The problem here is of perception and the average American does not expect his or her taxpayer money to go toward Al Gore's campaign,'' said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.
Gore campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway underscored that official aides may legally free-lance as long as they clock 40 hours of work on official business each week and do not use government resources, such as computers and phones.
''Anyone who helps out works strictly according to the rules and we're grateful for them,'' Hattaway said.
Ari Fleischer, campaign spokesman for Bush, who has his gubernatorial staff at his disposal, declined to make an issue of the muddied line between Gore's official and campaign resources.
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