Elliot Kaplan, David Owen's lawyer and friend.
Interviewed May 1, 1996
The start of this story..... What did David Owen do for Senator Dole?
David Owen was probably the most powerful man in Kansas, and one of the most
powerful men in America at the time. He was probably more powerful than our
governor, because our governor wasn't very competent, and nothing happened in
this state without Dave being involved or knowing about it at some level. He'd
had a long twenty-year relationship and friendship with Bob Dole. And
Elizabeth Dole. I think Dave looked at Bob Dole as a friend, perhaps in some
ways almost as a father figure. Dole is older than Dave and while I don't
think Dave was looking to Dole for fatherly advice, I think there was that deep
respect that one gets for an older figure that you identify with.
In Kansas, I don't think anything happened in the state that he wasn't involved
with at some level. And he could make you or break you. Although my
experience that he never did anything in this state that Bob Dole didn't ask
him to do, or the Republican party needed him to do. As a matter of fact I
think one of the things that exemplified Dave's relationship and service was,
often in Washington you'll find somebody'll go to their Congressman or Senator
and they'll say, "Well, I'm not going to get involved in this." And the person
will say "I'll help you out. Go see this and maybe we can make things work."
My experience with Dave was, you go to Dave and you ask Dave to get involved in
an issue on behalf of the Senator and if the Senator said no, it was no. Dave
was never saying, "I can do this in the back door." Or, "Go see this guy." It
was just a flat no. And I think that's the way he'd behaved in the State for
twenty years. He was Dole's lieutenant and when Dole said no, it was no.
FL: The Bill Roy campaign. Why was it a defining moment in the relationship
between Owen and Dole...
I think probably the moment that probably defined their relationship, was
probably the Bill Roy campaign. Dole had been out of the state for some time
pursuing his Vice-Presidential ambitions with Gerald Ford and Bill Roy, who was
a Congressman, was running against him for Dole's Senate seat. And it was a
very, very ugly campaign. And as I recall, something like two weeks before the
election Dole was way down in the polls and it really looked hopeless for him.
Of course it would have ruined his career. Bob Dole would have been selling
insurance in Russell, Kansas, had he lost his seat at the time. And Dave, who
he'd known, came in and took over his media, took over the Dole campaign media,
took over his advertising, took control of the campaign. And in a very short
time, it could have been two weeks, could have been two months, but it was a
very, very small period of time. he turned the whole thing around [for] Dole and
Dole won. I think you don't find relationships built like that very often,
they are usually built over years. And I think you have to find a very, very
close trusting relationship that the Senator and Dave had at the time and then
when the Senator married Elizabeth, I think she trusted and regarded Dave even
more highly. These people were more than friends, they were more than family.
It's almost like a religious experience with them. There was a deep, complete,
thorough trust of each other. It think that's why it was so hard for Dave.
And you know Dave was involved in every facet of their lives. In helping with
Elizabeth, and with what Elizabeth was doing. In working on the trusts. I
don't, I think Dave was the largest fundraiser for Bob Dole for years. I know
that when there were legislative issues or things that had to get done in the
State or support or whatever, Dave was there. Dave was a center part, or maybe
a surrogate for, Bob Dole in the State of Kansas. And to some extent
FL: Briefly describe the history of the charges made against David Owen and what
happened in the space of those years.
The way this whole horrible situation came about, I guess the best way to
analogize it is to a nuclear meltdown, where you have one little thing happen
and then a bunch of other things happen. Not one is all that important but your
safety systems don't work. And as a result it's total disaster.
The first thing that happened was that Bob Dole, to everyone's surprise,
except Dave Owens and perhaps Bob Dole's, had beaten Bush [in the '88
primary], I believe it was in New Hampshire. And then they were going up to
Iowa. And Dole was doing very, very well. And the Bush campaign put out this
release that said that Dave had done these terrible, awful thing. The next shoe
to drop was apparently some people that were very much motivated by their own
political and power interests filled Dole's ears with some things that were not
true. And Dole made an unfortunate statement saying Dave was a crook. And from
that point on it was a free for all against Dave Owen. He, for twenty years
all these people he disciplined for Dole, all these people that he kept in
line. And Dave is a tough fella. He's not easy. And for all those times when
people came to Dave to get help and Bob would say no, Dave was the one that
carried the message. And all these people in the state had grudges against
Dave Owen and particularly a bunch of people in the Party. And so there were
some frivolous charges filed by the Attorney General of Kansas, that were later
dismissed. It finally resulted in a small misdemeanor equivalent to tacking a
poster to a telephone pole.
But it just kept going and that was because the Attorney General owed money to
his attorney so he hired his attorney, and found a way to repay his attorney.
And then the son-in-law of one of the powerful fellas in the Republican party
saw a way to get Dave completely out of the way, and his son-in-law worked for
the Attorney General's office and they brought these crazy tax charges where
they actually convicted Dave of paying too many taxes in one year. And it was
absurd. Had he paid the right amount of taxes in the year he was supposed to
the government would have gotten less money. It was political and power
battles that were absolutely the worst I have ever seen. It really shocked my
conscious. I don't think Bob Dole ever said, "We got to get Dave Owen." I
think he got some very bad advice, very early on. I think he said some things
that I hope he regrets today. And I think after that it was just circle the
wagons and protect Dole. What could he say then? I was wrong? I've never
heard a Senator or a Congressman or a President ever say they were wrong. And
I think that's what happened. It ruined Dave. He went from being this highly
respected, ethical, hard working, local celebrity certainly, and national
celebrity in some cases to, you know, he lost his wife, lost his home, lost his
job, went to jail in a Federal prison. I don't know that I could have survived
as well as Dave did. I think for most people a much easier solution would have
been to put a bullet in your head. It was a very, very, very sad time. I
respect Dave for getting through it and I'm amazed that he did.
For it was all just gone. Nobody would return a phone call, nobody would help
him with anything. He was out on his own at 50 something years old after
having been at the very pinnacle of power he was just standing there without.
I'm telling you a street beggar could get more done at the time than Dave
could. And everybody--they'd run into him in a restaurant and they'd say how
horrible it is, but nobody'd lift a hand to help him.
FL: Out of all the things that he lost though, the biggest hurt of all was
I think Dave's biggest loss was his relationship with Bob and Elizabeth Dole.
What is it Socrates said, "Find the teacher?" And I think in some ways Bob
Dole was a teacher for Dave, and I think Dave, in the very best sense, had a
deep love for both Senator and Mrs. Dole. He was absolutely devoted. There
were no gray areas for Dave. There was never a question of would you feel
differently, or could we do this, or could we do that. It was Bob Dole,
Elizabeth Dole and if you're not for Bob Dole or Elizabeth Dole don't even
bother talking to him cause he won't give you the time of day. And I think
that was the greatest single loss for him. I don't think he's gotten over it
today. I don't think he ever gotten over, well, Elizabeth's called a couple
of times, but I don't think Bob Dole's ever called Dave Owen. Even enough to
say it was a horrible situation, there was nothing I could do about it, I'm
sorry, we all knew the risks were great when we took `em. You got hurt. I'd
hoped that if I were ever in a similar situation, my leader would do the same
thing for me.
FL: Describe that press conference and the importance it had in really affecting
the course of events.
I think there was just one very bad press conference up in Iowa, I believe,
where someone asked Senator Dole about these allegations against Dave Owen for
irregularities in campaign contributions and the 8-A set aside contract and all
that sort of thing. And Dole just said, "Dave is no longer with the campaign.
He's on his own. I've called for an investigation." And that was the end of
it. Then the sharks started circling Dave and it was a slow road downhill.
FL: What was the publicity like at this point?
Oh god. The publicity was unbelievable. I remember sitting up late at night,
mind you I wasn't sleeping very well at the time, and Johnny Carson was making
jokes about Dave Owen. You sit there and you say, "My god. Isn't anybody
going to ask what's going on here?" And it turned out it was all just a
horrible joke. It was one of these jokes that you never wake up from. The
press here in Kansas, there were some people at The Kansas City Star, I
think, that tried to get at the facts, but frankly there was so much a barrage
of all these different groups coming at him, like the Attorney General of
Kansas, the Attorney General of the United States, and then enemies of Dave
Owen's that were saying he was a crook and a horrible person. It was a feeding
frenzy. They were out just destroying him. I don't think if you were from the
press you could ever find out what the truth was because there was not time to
breath, no time to wrestle with the facts to find out what the truth was.
Everybody had a spin to help them. Nobody was concerned about Dave.
FL: Dole didn't call -- what did that mean to Dave.
Well, when the charges were first brought, they were just absurd. The charges
that were brought against Dave were, I think, in the first place that he had a
financial interest in a minority program, that there may have been some
campaign irregularities, and I believe those were the only charges. There may
have been something about the trust, but I'm not certain. There was nothing to
the minority business. The FBI came out and everything, we showed them all the
files. In fact we had offered them immediately when these charges were leveled
to open up everybody's files. That's what Dave said, "We'll fully cooperate."
Because we knew there was nothing there. Dave made some calls to the Senator
in order to explain what had happened, to give him some comfort with what was
going on and what he could expect to see. And to my knowledge, the Senator
never called him back. Now I know he spoke several times with Elizabeth. I
think a lot of Elizabeth for talking with Dave throughout this whole thing.
That was a one or two month period, then the State brought it's charges and
about three years later the Attorney General's office brought their charges and
now, eight or ten years later, it's one of those things I don't like to
remember so my time is not excellent on it, but I don't think Dave has yet
heard from Bob Dole, even to say we all knew the risks when we got into this.
And I think all people who really excel in their careers and go on to very high
places in their community, they all take risks and they know there are risks.
I just hope that if I ever go through the same kind of situation that my
leader, whoever that would be, would call me up at some point and just say,
"I'm sorry that you're lying there dead. You're one of the best guys I ever
had and I'm sorry you're taking the heat." I'd like to think that I'd hear
FL: Your own relationship to Dave, describe it briefly and what you learned. It
was a very emotional experience for you as you traveled this road with
My relationship with Dave throughout this period, I'm a lawyer and I've
practiced some law for Dave and there were other lawyers that did some work for
him. I think Dave trusted me to talk to me about things and would bounce ideas
off me. Although he never talked to me much about Bob Dole. I was, of course,
indicted initially by the State. It was thrown out at the preliminary hearing.
I was indicted for stealing $3,000 from myself. And as a judge at the
preliminary hearing said, "You can't steal $3,000 from yourself. This is
nonsense." That's what the allegations were. It was a payback for the
Attorney General.....I mean this thing really brought up the slimy bottom of
politics and power. And it was a very, very hard time for me. I lost my job.
And spent years putting my life back together. And I was not any public
figure. I was just a straphanger in all of this. But you feel the fallout
FL: I'd like to go back again to this issue of standing by your man. We've
talked about the comparisons it raised for you and the questions it
Well, I think that the responsibility of a candidate or anyone to stand by their
principal people, I'm kind of torn myself on this. In the heat of battle I was
very upset with Bob Dole. I was very upset with the system, with the
government, that all these horrible things that were happening to Dave. And
kept thinking why is this happening? Why isn't somebody doing something about
it? As I reflect on it I think what happened is that Bob Dole got some bad
information and shot off his mouth, a knee jerk reaction, and said some
horrible things about Dave Owen and everybody circled the wagons. They all,
all the staff... What's Bob Dole going to do? Say I was wrong? I made a
mistake? Nobody's going to say that. You're just left hanging.
FL: Try to compare the Reagan...
I guess the best analogy I can come up with is when Ed Meese was
under, there were allegations every day in the press about irregularities in
the Attorney General's office. He was just under tremendous pressure. And
President Reagan said, "Ed Meese has been my friend of twenty years. He's an
honest man. If he did anything wrong he should be punished. And if he didn't
then he should go on with his life. But I have seen nothing that indicates
that he has done anything wrong."
So on the one hand I guess you'd say Bob Dole's no Ronald Reagan, but then on
the other hand Ronald Reagan was the sitting President and Bob Dole was in the
middle of a campaign, and I really think Bob Dole was operating on some very
bad information. There were a lot of people that had some personal gain if
Dave was out of the way. And a lot of people moved up as a result of Dave
getting out of the way, or being forced out of the way.
FL: Does it however for you, personally, raise questions about the way Dole
handled things? Does it raise questions about what kind of a president he
I'm really torn on what questions it raises on what kind of President
he'd be. I certainly don't want a wishy-washy President. I want somebody who
can be decisive and take a position. I think Bob Dole did that. Now, on the
other hand I also want a President that can see when a mistake has been made
and can say, "There's an error here. And everyone here including I, including
me, the President, is a victim of circumstances." And this fellow was my
friend for years, he's never done anything to hurt me, he's only been the best
public servant. And we need to put this behind us. And I guess I wish there
was that part of Bob Dole. Now, that may be Elizabeth Dole. Elizabeth
certainly has talked to Dave and maybe that's the biggest strength of Elizabeth
Dole and Bob Dole and the country if he's elected president is that Elizabeth
is a compassionate, caring, sensitive woman who is not afraid of expressing
Did you ever see Dave break down?
No. I've never seen Dave lose his composure or his focus. He's a very strong,
quiet man. You know, for me it was a year of hell. For him it's a whole
lifetime. It's the end of his lifetime, no matter what ever happens people
will say, "That was Dave Owen. That's that bad guy." Here's a man who spent
his whole life trying to serve his community and there's just nothing left for
him. He has to do the best he can with the friends who have rallied for him.
And there have been some. But at best it's much less than it ever was, or
should have been or could have been.
You said something along the lines of... 'He was guilty of standing
I'm not sure if I was taught this by my grandfather or I learned it in law
school, but somehow I developed the belief that we are responsible for the
things we do and the things we allow to happen. And I could not anymore
feel no responsibility for allowing something to happen, as I could if I had
actually done something to hurt something. I think we have a responsibility to
civilization and to ourselves to correct the things we do wrong and to help the
things like Dave when you're caught up in them and nobody's there to help. You
know it's what made this country really what it is. When the immigrants
started pressing West and the country never would have grown into anything had
they not helped each other, had they not stood by each other. That's the
American way. That's what it's supposed to be all about. And today, with these
thirty second sound bites, and huge power grabs, and these tremendous stakes,
it's like instead of "no man is an island", every man is an island. And it's
sad comment. And maybe it's unavoidable I don't know.
FL: Dave is a casualty. But we're also talking about the candidates themselves.
Do they emerge as the same people after all of this? It's a fire for them,
they can become bigger or smaller. Clinton has been facing the same problems
too. What is it about this life that tests you in ways that you don't rise to
I think the whole political process does change people. I'm continually
amazed as I watch these matches how at the end of this we really do know a lot
about the person. The real person does come out. As ugly as the whole system
is, it seems to work. It seems to give us the information we need to make a
decision. At the same time though we have this expectation that our
politicians are these saintly divine people that are there to find ways of
curing everybody's problems. Not only do I not think that's what they are, I
don't think that's what we want. I think we end up with people that are very
hardened. They go through this process making choices that effect people like
you and me, millions of us. And they have to make the right choices and they
have to worry about where they're gong to be at the end of their career. I
don't know. Have you ever met a chairman of the board of a major company that
ends his chairmanship and is out doing good for America. I mean usually the
whole experience of taking that responsibility, and struggling with it, and the
friends that you lose along the way. And the people that get hurt that you
don't intend to get hurt, but just get hurt. It changes people. There's no
joy out there. There's a coldness, and emptiness. They have become so good at
what they do, they have in a way lost humanity. And maybe that's what we
demand of them. Maybe that's what the biggest loss that politicians go through
and executives of large corporations as well. As part of saving humanity, they
lose humanity for themselves.
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