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Billionaire's Challenge: Ted Forstmann Offers $1M to Charity for Presidential Debate on Education

Aired June 15, 2000 - 2:09 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: A billionaire businessman is trying to get both Bush and Gore to focus on a single issue in a presidential debate. The issue: education. The inducement is $1 million for charity.

Details from CNN's Jeanne Meserve.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED FORSTMANN, CO-FOUNDER, CHILDREN'S SCHOLARSHIP FUND: In any event, what's really important here is the views of the candidates.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York billionaire financier Ted Forstmann is offering George Bush and Al Gore a half-million dollars each for their favorite children's charities if they agree to a single debate on a single issue: education.

FORSTMANN: Political candidates seem to me to spend an awful lot of their time raising money for themselves, so I'm giving these two an opportunity, in just 90 minutes, to raise money for others, to engage in a debate on the most important challenge facing our country today, and to do a good turn for disadvantaged children as well.

MESERVE: Joining Forstmann at the New York press conference, former White House press secretary Mike McCurry and informal Bush adviser Vin Weber. Despite Weber's support, the Bush campaign did not immediately accept the Forstmann offer. In a carefully-worded statement, a spokesman would only say that the governor looks forward to debating Al Gore in the fall, especially on education, a top Bush priority.

Those fall debates are unlikely to be confined to a single issue, as Forstmann wants, but still, the Bush campaign said, it had not ruled out Forstmann's offer.

Gore, who has challenged Bush to two debates a week, accepted without reservation.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nobody has to give money to get me to debate. I'm ready to debate.

MESERVE: The Gore campaign has a standing offer to give up all TV ads in exchange for twice-weekly debates with Bush. Bush has rejected that idea, calling it a political stunt.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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