WASHINGTON -- Vice President Al Gore is challenging a drug industry-backed group that has been critical of his prescription drug plan to make public its list of donors.
''The American people deserve to know who exactly is trying to influence this critical issue,'' Gore said in a letter to leaders of Citizens for Better Medicare.
In his letter, Gore decried the ''unlimited secret amount of money'' flowing to special interest groups seeking to sway the debate on critical issues.
Gore has clashed repeatedly with Citizens for Better Medicare, which has attacked his plans to expand Medicare by adding a prescription drug benefit.
Dan Zielinski, a spokesman for the group, said the organization received Gore's letter Wednesday and ''we're still in the process of reviewing it.''
Meanwhile, Gore is feeling pressure at home in his presidential contest with Texas Gov. George W. Bush. A new poll gives the former senator a 45 percent to 40 percent edge over Bush in Tennessee, just larger than the poll's error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The poll was taken for the Knoxville News-Sentinel between June 19-24. Bush has a big lead over Gore in polls in Texas.
Congress recently approved and President Clinton signed a change in campaign finance law designed to prevent some politically active issue advocacy groups from keeping their lists of contributors secret.
The change would affect Citizens for Better Medicare, which has run millions of dollars in television commercials attacking plans to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The Clinton administration has proposed a Medicare drug plan, and Gore has made a similar proposal an important part of his campaign.
Gore, accusing drug companies of ''price gouging,'' says the industry is attacking his Medicare plan in order to protect rapidly growing profits.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is a backer of Citizens for Better Medicare. In its TV ads, the group argues against imposing any Canadian-style government price controls on prescription drugs in this country, saying research funds would dry up as a result.
Congressional Republicans, who favor a prescription drug benefit plan operated through private insurance companies, also argue that the Democratic proposals would create a big-government drug program. Republicans pushed their bill through the House this month in the face of a White House veto threat, but the measure's prospects are uncertain in the Senate.
In his letter, Gore said the recent congressional action on secret donations did not require that past donor lists be made public.
''The donors who have already funneled millions to front special interest groups can remain safely hidden,'' Gore said.
''I call on your organization to reveal the sources of your million-dollar campaign so Americans can understand the real voices in this critical debate, not special interest cloaked in secrecy,'' Gore said. ''It is already clear that the real faces behind Citizens for Better Medicare are not those of America's elderly.''
Gore planned to make his demand public at a campaign stop in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Wednesday. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.
Gore was speaking to the American Federation of Teachers in Philadelphia, then heading to Chicago to address the National Education Association. NEA delegates voted Tuesday to endorse Gore for president, citing his support of higher pay for teachers. Gore already had won the endorsement of the union's board of directors. AFT also has endorsed Gore.
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