High-Flying Ex-Con Steps Down From Thompson Campaign

Following revelations that an adviser and top fundraiser to Fred Thompson's presidential campaign had a history as a drug dealer, bookie and reluctant taxpayer, that adviser resigned, according to a statement released by the Thompson campaign.

An e-mailed statement from the campaign to reporters quoted Philip Martin as saying he had decided to step down because "the focus of this campaign should be on Fred Thompson's positions on the issues and his outstanding leadership ability," not on his mistakes.

"I deeply regret any embarrassment this has caused," the statement read.

News accounts Sunday reported Martin had been convicted of or pleaded guilty to charges involving cocaine and marijuana dealing and bookmaking in the 1970s and 80s.

Martin was an adviser to Thompson since early this year, even before the former Republican senator officially announced his candidacy. Martin helped raise $6 million in pledged donations and traveled with Thompson to campaign events.

Martin, whom Thompson has called a close and longtime friend, has faced numerous lawsuits from investors who say they lost money in his shuttered companies, which number in the dozens.

Several of Martin's former businesses also face tax debts nearing $1 million, dating from the period Martin helped run the companies. The Internal Revenue Service and the state of Tennessee filed liens against Martin himself in 1995 and 2002. A clerk for the Hamilton County, Tenn. government said those liens have since been removed.

Martin, who lives in a $2.4 million home on a secluded island in the Gulf of Mexico, has donated over $70,000 to GOP candidates and groups since 1993, including $6,000 to Thompson.

Thompson's campaign paid Martin for the use of his private jet to fly the candidate, his family and advisers around the country. But the campaign reimbursed Martin for a fraction of the typical price of a charter flight until rules changed in September, according to the Washington Post.

In televised comments yesterday, Thompson defended his friend, saying Martin had "paid his debt to society" and he would not "throw him under a bus" because of the revelations.

"On the other hand, I'm running for president," Thompson added. "I've got, you know, to do the right thing."

Thompson isn't the only presidential candidate who has been embarrassed this year by allegations about key campaign fundraisers and advisers.

A fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., turned out to be a wanted fugitive.

Rudolph Giuliani's South Carolina chairman was indicted for cocaine dealing.

And the Florida chairman for Sen. John McCain is awaiting trial on charges he solicited sex for money in a Tallahassee mens' room.

"The highest premium is put on getting bundlers to raise huge amounts of money, and the lowest premium is put on checking out who these bundlers are," said Fred Wertheimer, president and CEO of Democracy 21. "So we wind up with people who should be no where near government or campaigns."

Campaign officials said today that in the wake of Phil Martin's resignation, Thompson was no longer using his private jet and took a commercial flight to New Hampshire last night.

There is no indication what action, if any, the campaign may take about the money Martin has contributed and raised for the campaign.

This post has been updated.

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