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Clinton, Lazio make 'soft money' pledges

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Rick Lazio exchanged comments Wednesday on the influence of "soft money" donations in their U.S. Senate campaign in New York, with Lazio calling for an end to the use of such money in the campaign, and Clinton saying she would do so if the two can reach an agreement.

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Clinton  

Lazio, the Republican nominee for the Senate seat, and Clinton, the Democratic nominee, made separate appearances Wednesday before the New York State Associated Press Association. Lazio, who has been increasingly strident in recent days in his demands to drop soft money, appeared first.

"Soft money" refers to funds given by individuals and groups for political party-building and issue-support efforts. They are unregulated and there is no limit to such donations. Critics of the current campaign financing system say soft money is used to circumvent campaign contribution and spending limits, with groups using the soft money to indirectly support or attack candidates.

In a televised debate last week, Clinton said she could agree with Lazio's proposed ban if he obtained signed pledges from 14 conservative groups spending or amassing funds to advertise on Lazio's behalf. "Well, ladies and gentleman, here they are -- signed pledges from every group she named to get out of the race," Lazio said, showing off the letters from groups ranging from the American Conservative Union to the Republican National Committee.

Lazio
Lazio  

Lazio called on Clinton to return her soft money donations -- already several million dollars -- and to obtain similar signed pledges from liberal groups and stop running their ads. He challenged her to do so within three days.

"Mrs. Clinton should today put her soft money where her mouth is and follow through on her commitments to eradicate the poison of dirty money from this Senate race," Lazio said.

Later Wednesday, Clinton responded, "I'm going to ask my campaign immediately to meet with his and figure out if what he's offered is compatible with the requests that I've been making for months, and we'll get to work on that right away."

To date, Clinton has raised $22 million in regulated "hard money" contributions for her Senate campaign, while Lazio has raised $19 million.

Earlier Wednesday, Clinton announced the endorsement of her candidacy by Jim and Sarah Brady, among the nation's leading gun control advocates.

Sarah Brady is the chair of Handgun Control Inc., a group she helped found after her husband was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt of President Reagan. Jim Brady was Reagan's first press secretary.

"Hillary has been committed to this issue for years and years," Mrs. Brady said, adding that her initial meeting with the first lady was in November 1993, when President Clinton signed into law a five-day waiting period to enable a background check on prospective gun buyers.

Lazio/Clinton debate
Clinton and Lazio debated earlier this month  

"We don't just need someone who will vote the right way. We need someone who will be a leader," Mrs. Brady said.

Her husband added, "New Yorkers suffer gun violence because we have weak federal laws, because of the weak laws in other states. Hillary Clinton will work to make sure the rest of the country has laws at least as strong as those here in New York."

Clinton said she was proud of the endorsement and that, if elected, she would stand up to the gun lobby and Republican congressional leaders.

"I will be a senator who will fight for sensible gun legislation," Clinton said.

Lazio has voted for the five-day waiting period on handgun purchases as well as the assault weapons ban during his tenure in the House of Representatives.

CNN Producer Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report

 
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