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Special Event

Al Gore Proposes Plan for Campaign Finance Reform

Aired March 27, 2000 - 1:26 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you now live to the campus of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Al Gore is about to make some proposals on campaign finance reform. He has said that he has admitted mistakes as far as campaign fund-raising goes, so he may be an imperfect maintains.

That said, let's listen to the vice president. Afterwards, we'll get Republican response to his proposal.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... for all the laws passed since then, his words sadly continue to ring true today.

In 1970, my father lost his Senate seat, in part because of the special interest money that was funneled into his opponent's campaign by the infamous Nixon "dirty tricks" operation.

I learned a powerful lesson from my father, a lesson I tried to sum up in one of my first contributions to the public debate as a freshman Congressman in 1978 during my first term in the House of Representatives, when I argued that campaign finance reform is one of the most important steps we can take to return government to the people.

In that first term in Congress, I began an effort to persuade my colleagues and my constituents that as long as special interest money controls campaign funding, the public interest will suffer. That's why I called for public financing of congressional elections that same year and throughout my service in the House and Senate. It's why I pushed for measures to reduce campaign costs, limit PAC contributions and fully disclose all special interest spending. It's why I sponsored or co-sponsored more than a dozen campaign finance reform bills since that first term in Congress.

Now listening to Russ say kind words about the efforts I made, and then comparing this long effort and what resulted from it on my part to what he's been able to accomplish in a shorter period of time, I have to say, it's pretty obvious I wasn't as effective in advancing this cause as your Russ Feingold has been. And I compliment him and John McCain.

(APPLAUSE)

But I believe in this cause very deeply. And my own commitment to this issue has made me a appreciate even more the skill with which Russ Feingold and others have made this a part of our national debate. And it has made me appreciate the real heroes in this fight, the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans all across this country who are determined to reclaim our democracy from the special interests. It's the people at the grassroots level who have lifted up this cause, and none of us would be here discussing this issue if not for the enthusiasm and determination at the grassroots level.

This movement has been carried forward by working men and women, housewives, ministers and factory hands, ordinary people who insisted on making real the promise of our democracy and insisted on making those at the highest levels of power respect the premise that in a democracy all people are politically and morally equal.

No one better embodies the heart of this greatroots movement, perhaps, than anyone than Doris Haddock, better known as "Granny D.," a 90-year-old grandmother -- you've all seen her in the media -- from New Hampshire, who spent 14 months walking from California to Washington, D.C. to bring attention to this cause. And, by the way, she was joined for part of that walk by my friend and former opponent, Senator Bill Bradley, who I compliment, who along with John McCain helped put this issue at the forefront of this campaign year of 2000. And I appreciate all of the hard work that Bill Bradley and his supporters have put into this issue.

Now behind all of the progress again has been that determination determination and persistence of the people at the grassroots. And it is on behalf of these ordinary heroes that I am here today to talk about the steps I think we can take both practical and bold to restore faith in our democratic process again, to make American elections not endless competitions for cash but true contests of ideas.

I understand the doubts about whether I personally am serious on campaign finance reform. And I understand all too well the irony of our current fund-raising system.

Men and women of good intentions and high ideals want to protect the public interests, but have to raise private money in order to do so.

No decent public service -- no decent public servant enters this line of work in order to raise money, but rather to serve the public. And most of those who donate the money who'd rather not be asked, we all know that the entire system needs reform. But we also know that there are millions of people out there who depend on those who care about the public interest to fight for them and not to abandon the field of battle, millions who would be the ones hurt most if advocates for the public interest unilaterally disarmed and left the field of battle to those who oppose both the public interest and campaign finance reform, which is part of the public interest.

That was the choice I felt I faced in 1996, and it was a battle to defend Medicare from deep cuts, to preserve our national commitment to education, to prevent our environmental laws from being rewritten by the big polluters. But that year, in fighting for what we believe in, Democrats along with Republicans engaged in fund raising that pushed the system to the breaking point and fueled further cynicism, which ultimately over time undermines the very things that we're fighting for.

I've got the scars to prove it. And I know I may be an imperfect message for this cause. But the real wounds will be to our democracy itself unless and until we address this problem. I also know that if our country is led for the next four years by someone who actively opposes McCain-Feingold, has pledged to veto McCain-Feingold, and professes to see nothing wrong with the ills we seek to remedy we will certainly make no progress, and indeed the threat we now confront will become much worse.

So the first choice facing us, as always, is whether we will try or not, and in simple terms, here is the contrast: I will try. Governor Bush will not.

(APPLAUSE)

That part's pretty simple.

(APPLAUSE)

Governor -- Governor Bush is committed to defending the status quo, and the status quo is unacceptable. You know, Governor Bush talks a lot about being an outsider, but being an outsider is about more than where you live. It's about who you're fighting for.

Believe it or not, Governor Bush wants to open the floodgates even wider to special interest donors and big money. That's not just defending the status quo. That's setting it in stone. And it will weigh down for decades the hopes and aspirations of our people.

I am committed to changing today's system of special interest campaign financing. And although you have to take my word for this next point, I promise you that if you entrust me with the presidency I will do more than try. I will lead. I will fight.

(APPLAUSE)

I will join with you and the grassroots millions and Russ Feingold and John McCain and Bill Bradley and Jesse Ventura and grassroots organizations to win the battle for campaign finance reform...

(APPLAUSE)

... and enact McCain-Feingold into law. And don't doubt for a minute we can do it. We can do it. We will do it with your help.

(APPLAUSE)

I know firsthand what is wrong with the way we fund political campaigns. I care very deeply about the integrity of our politics, and of course, about my own integrity as well. My commitment to changing America's campaign finance laws is both personal and profound.

We can not make the progress our nation needs until we end the dominance of money in our democracy. And let me cite a few examples. Last year alone, the health and insurance industries lavished nearly $7 million in political contributions on both parties. Is it an accident that we don't have a patients' bill of rights to ensure that medical decision will be made not by the companies that made those donations but by the doctors and nurses who actually provide the health care?

Let me give you a second example: Last year alone, the big pharmaceutical companies bestowed more than $4 million on both parties. Is it entirely an accident that so many in Congress defend drug industry price gouging instead of passing a prescription drug benefit for seniors on Medicare?

Last year alone, the big tobacco companies offered up more than $2 1/2 million in contributions, most all of them to one party. Is it entirely an accident that Congress refuses to enact tough legislation to protect our children from the addiction of cigarettes?

Make no mistake, this is a cancer on our democracy and it is growing. The tide of special interest money rises relentlessly with each successive election cycle. I refer to that report in January of 1957 that documented $33 million. This year it's more than 10 times that, much more than 10 times that.

The estimate is unless we agree to ban soft money in this campaign, half a billion dollars of it will be raised and spent in this election, overwhelming our campaign laws in a cascade of unregulated cash.

Three years ago, I called for both parties to ban soft money entirely, and I have urged Governor Bush to join with me and ban soft money now. I have also asked Governor Bush to join with me in eliminating the single-largest expenditure in any modern campaign, the 30-second and 60-second TV and radio ads that consume more than half of all the dollars raised and spent, and instead agree to debate twice a week every week until election day with a specific issue chosen each time. I believe that would honor and uplift our democracy.

(APPLAUSE)

But so far, Governor Bush has refused to join with me to change the way we conduct our campaigns. Instead, he has treated the issue of campaign finance reform as a political shell game, launching personal attacks to hide the fact that he opposes McCain-Feingold and every real reform.

His notion of campaign finance reform is so-called "paycheck protection," which, in fact, protects powerful interests by preventing labor unions and working families from having their voices heard while leaving private concentrations of power free to contribute endless unlimited sums of soft money without any call for comparable shareholder protection or permission in advance for corporate funds to be used to finance limitless so-called "issue ads" with the loopholes that Senator Feingold has already described.

Is it any coincidence that the Wyly brothers, for example, support his plan, that the so-called "pioneers" support his plan?

Frankly, under my plan, union spending, which he talks about quite a bit, would be a moot issue because my plan would ban soft money contributions from both labor and corporations. And by the way, just to underscore what a red herring that is, in 1998 business interests contributed $167 million in soft money, 16 times as much as all of the labor unions put together.

So keep that in mind when you hear him constantly holding that up as a phony argument against reform.

Governor Bush's notion of campaign finance reform is actually to raise the contribution limits so special interests can give even more and get even more in return. Let me tell you, if those are the results, I think it's fair to say George W. Bush is no reformer. Results for sure, but no reform.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

ALLEN: Vice President Al Gore at Marquette University proposing an end to soft money. He's also proposing the setup of an endowment, what he's calling a democracy endowment, which individuals and corporations could make tax-deductible contributions to this endowment fund. It would then provide equal amounts of money to candidates who agree to accept no other donations for the general election.

Gore called himself an imperfect messenger, admitting he's made mistakes making fund-raising calls from his office and attending a fund-raising event at a Buddhist temple. But, he said, I understand the doubts about whether I personally am serious on campaign reform, and he said that he was, pointing out in special interest fund raising that the health and insurance industries gave $7 million to both parties. And he said it's not an accident we do not have a patients' bill of rights as a result.

We want to talk now to a Republican about what the vice president has proposed. Robert Bennett is a Republican senator from Utah. He joins us now from Washington. Thank you for being with us.

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT (R), UTAH: Thank you.

ALLEN: What do you think about what you heard from the vice president just now?

BENNETT: Well, I'm old enough to be able to say I've heard it all before, only not in last election or in the last presidential race. I go all the way back to the Watergate years when we heard exactly the same rhetoric and the same promises that if only the government would step in and take control of the way campaign money was raised and financed, everything would be wonderful and we're going to have all these wonderful reforms.

The system we're living under now is the Watergate reform, that crusade, to use the word he's using, that was launched 20, 25 years ago, and it has produced a mishmash. And frankly, if you look at the details of what he's proposing, you'll get exactly the same result as he talks about. You'll get a mishmash that will in fact increase, not decrease, the power of special interest money, will increase the cynicism of the American people and will have us back another 15, 20 years from now saying, oh, we have to clean up the mess. The mess will have come as a result of what he's proposing.

ALLEN: So what's the alternative? You've got a lot of voters making a call in this country, the ones that went with John McCain. Everyone was so surprised how well he did, that have said, we want something done with campaign finance reform.

BENNETT: If you read the exit polls carefully, most of the people who voted for John McCain did so because of his war record and not on the basis of campaign finance reform. But the real solution to this whole thing is here before us: It is disclosure, meaningful disclosure. Everything that John -- or that Al Gore is talking about could be dealt with if people and journalists simply had the facts of who was giving what.

Frankly, some of the statistics he's quoting I think are false. And if we have true and accurate disclosure, and rapid and immediate disclosure, we wouldn't be subject to these kinds of conjectures.

So I think there are solutions to this. They are not solutions that mean tromping on the Constitution and the First Amendment rights of groups to express themselves, solutions that can be achieved in the Internet age by disclosing who is giving what to whom and in how much.

ALLEN: So do you project that Congress will take up this issue in any form?

BENNETT: Well, we're going to be discussing it this week. One of the more honest Democrats with respect to this issue, Senator Hollings, recognizes that you cannot get where the vice president wants to go without amending the First Amendment, and so Senator Hollings will put his proposal to amend the First Amendment on the floor of the Senate either today or tomorrow. I think it will lose, as it has in the past, but at least they have the honesty to recognize that what they're talking about under current constitutional definitions by the Supreme Court is clearly violative of the First Amendment, and they need to start over again.

ALLEN: Senator Robert Bennett, thank you for joining us.

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