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Representative Rick Lazio Talks to A.P. Reporters About Campaign Finance Proposal

Aired September 20, 2000 - 1:26 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you live now to Albany, New York, where the Republican Representative Rick Lazio is running for the Senate seat in New York, is speaking with Associated Press print reporters in the face of criticism he's been receiving on his stance toward Hillary Clinton in their televised debate last week in Buffalo, folks are saying he was overly aggressive. I don't know if that's part of his defense today, but we'll certainly see.

Let's listen.


REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), SENATE CANDIDATE: ... spend soft money. Let's ask all outside groups to stay out of this race. Let's run this race with clean dollars, with hard dollars, the kind of dollars that are protected under campaign finance reform.


LAZIO: I'm going to give you, I guess, -- there is -- I think we have how many -- 14 groups here? I think those are -- they asked for 14. I think we have all 14 that were identified by the other side, and they're a diverse group. We'll make sure you get copies of all the different groups.


LAZIO: I believe we do. I believe we have -- the true challenges, though, is good faith. This is not a "gotcha" deal where someone is going to fall through the cracks. We're going to try and make sure that if there are any other additional issues raised that we meet the challenge. The question is, it comes right down to the ultimate test of character in this race, whether your word means anything, whether you can be trusted. It's a very simple proposition, either you are for it or you're against it, either you mean what you said or you didn't mean what you said.

Now, in addition, I would -- I believe that they have spent millions of dollars in negative attack ads distorting my record, all financed by soft money. I'm not even saying that we should level the playing field, I'm not suggesting that somehow I should be allowed to raise as much soft money to -- as she is already raised and spent to make sure that we have a level playing field. I am willing to accept that disadvantage. I am simply saying to Mrs. Clinton, you have an opportunity right now to establish some credibility and to affirm that when you said you were for it, not spending or raising any soft money, that you were for a clean campaign, that you were for taking the high road, that you actually meant it.

And that's exactly the leadership that I am providing right now. My campaign has neither raised nor spent a dime of soft money. And we are going the extra yard. She complained about the small account that we had, it was a state and local account, we have disbanded that account and refunded the monies, something I think you will never see your -- my opponent do.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... do you plan on staying to confront her?

LAZIO: Do I plan...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... she is going to be here shortly, do you plan on staying to confront her?

LAZIO: I think this is your forum.

QUESTION: Congressman, you said when you announced this that you'd give her 72 hours (OFF-MIKE) Will you be setting up soft money committees if you don't get an agreement?

LAZIO: Well, we're not going to set up any joint committees like she has. But I will tell you, I am not going to be responsible for what's happening with outside groups, if Mrs. Clinton is not willing to do what she said she was for. And, you know, if she wants to make sure that outside groups don't participate in this race, it's a very simple proposition: enter into this agreement. Enter into this comprehensive agreement. No more wiggle room. No more evasion and no more excuses. And I'm counting on all of you, frankly, to be fair umpires in this -- not to allow that to happen, and to hold people accountable. I know you would hold me accountable, and I expect you to hold her accountable too.


LAZIO: Absolutely.


LAZIO: Absolutely. I mean, this is a matter...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... any other group excluded out to you as a group raising or spending any kind of money or attack ads in New York...

LAZIO: Yes, Sam.

QUESTION: ... you would endeavor to stop that?

LAZIO: Yes. As long -- there has to be a commitment on both sides to do the same thing, and there has to be -- not just -- the letter of the agreement and the letter of these commitments, but the spirit of the agreement, and the spirit is a very simple proposition. Don't open up any soft money accounts, close the ones that you have. Don't raise any soft money, don't spend any soft money, call on all outside groups and get their commitment to stay out of the race.

Now, was this the easiest thing in the world to do? No. But I am committed to doing this, I was determined to get this done, and now we have eliminated any smokescreen that might have been left to distract from the true issue here. And it's not just a matter of me making this proposition, the fact is this is what Mrs. Clinton herself said that she wanted to do. And so now we are delivering on our commitment, I am showing leadership and I am demonstrating to New York and to America that we don't need a law in Washington in order to do the right thing, in order to restore confidence in our system.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... you expect to get the same commitment from her, and if so, how many are there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE) ... members of the association (OFF-MIKE)

QUESTION: That means you won't answer my question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those are the ground rules.

QUESTION: Congressman, Bill Powers nor Mike Long are included in letters here (OFF-MIKE) I am just wondering if you (OFF-MIKE) agree to get the agreement from them.

LAZIO: I believe they are on all these -- on our agreements. Yes, we have signed commitments from them.

QUESTION: How come we don't have those letters?

LAZIO: You want me to name off the groups that we have up here, would that be easier for everybody, or would that waste too much time? OK.

The American Conservative Union, Citizens For a Sound Economy...

WATERS: That's Rick Lazio continuing to aggressively press his case for the elimination of soft money from the New York Senate race, as he did in his first debate with Hillary Clinton, an aggression that he has been criticized for, pressing his point too forcefully.

In response to that, earlier in the week, Lazio has been telling reporters that there's a double standard, because -- I'm going to quote him now -- "you're a man or a woman, and that you can't make the point forcefully because you are a man, and the person you're making the point with is a woman. I just think that is sexist," that's Lazio.

You may have seen the debate, or clips of it, Mr. Lazio left his podium and went over to Hillary Rodham Clinton's podium and asked her forcefully to sign this pledge against soft money, and she told him at the time, when you get signatures from the conservative groups pledging to eliminate the soft money from the campaign, then we certainly can talk about it, so that's what he is talking about today.

He held up at the beginning of this meeting with Associated Press reporters a piece of paper purportedly containing the signatures of these groups, keeping outside groups out of this New York Senate race. He is inviting these A.P. journalists to take up issue with Hillary Rodham Clinton when she meets with the group in about a hour. We will cover that live, and we'll keep pace with this story of a tight Senate race in New York.

"CNN TODAY" will continue in just a moment.



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