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Special Event

Campaign Finance Reform Debate in Senate Begins Today

Aired March 19, 2001 - 1:45 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: It is campaign finance reform day in the United States Senate, the beginning of a two-week debate over the McCain-Feingold bill and other proposals for limiting so-called soft money, the unregulated funds to campaigns.

The alternative by Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, which would limit, but not prohibit, the soft money donations, is now being argued on the floor of the Senate by Senator Hagel.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: ... that funding, which is now accountable and reportable. This ban would weaken the parties and put more money and control in the hands of wealth individuals and independent groups who are accountable to no one.

Madame President, if anyone of us in America wishes to find out who is running a television or a radio spot for a candidate or against a candidate, you cannot now find that information. Why is that? Because it's not disclosable.

I know that is difficult for many in this country to believe that, but that is the case. So when you take a power, any power away from one group, it will expand power for another group.

I don't believe as well that our problems lie with candidates for public office and their campaigns. Their campaigns are fully open to the public. All dollars raised and expended are disclosed. The voters can hold them responsible, and should and must hold candidates accountable.

Have we had players in the system? Do we have bad players now in the system? Well, the American public will make that judgment.

Recent years have been rife with accounts of those who dance on the pinhead of technicality, who skirt the law because there's "no controlling legal authority." But I don't know how you legislate ethical behavior.

Of course, if it was just a matter of laws and regulations, then we'd have no crime in America. Why? Because we have laws against murder, we have laws against robbery, we have laws against everything. So if it was that simply, just pass another law, the world would be just fine.

We can't allow our outrage at the morally questionable actions of a few lead us to tamp down the system so tightly that we shut out the involvement of the overwhelming majority. What sense does that make?

The more money that is pushed outside the reportable system of candidates and political parties, the less control candidates will have over their own campaigns.

Voters can hold candidates responsible for their content. They cannot hold outside groups and wealthy individuals accountable.

I believe the greatest threat to our political system today is those who operate outside the bounds of openness and accountability, not those who operate inside the bounds of accountability and reportability and disclosure.

In recent years, we've seen an explosion of multimillion-dollar advertising buys by outside organizations. These groups and wealthy individuals come into an election, spend unlimited sums of money and leave without anyone knowing who they were, who they are or how much money they spend, or why. They can have a major impact on the outcome of any election -- any election -- especially in small states.

Do they have a right to participate? Of course, they have a right to participate. But their actions must be disclosed.

In the fall of 1999, I introduced a bipartisan bill to reform our campaign finance system. I reintroduced that legislation this year, with several Democrat and Republican colleagues. I'm pleased to report that more and more of my colleagues have come on as co-sponsors to this legislation in the last couple of days.

The components of our legislation will genuinely improve the way federal campaigns are financed. We increase disclosure requirements for candidates, parties, independent groups and individuals. The current system provides no disclosure for the activities of outside groups or individuals.

We ensure that the name of the individual, the organization, its officers, addresses, phone numbers, and the amount of money spent are all made public immediately.

I would ask that I be given another 10 minutes...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator from Kentucky.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: I'd say to my friend from Nebraska I didn't hear him.

HAGEL: I would ask that I be given another 10 minutes to finish.

MCCONNELL: I yield 10 minutes to the senator from Nebraska.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senate from Nebraska. HAGEL: Our legislation, Madame President, limits soft-money contributions to political parties to $60,000 per year. Now, that's far below the unlimited millions -- unlimited millions, unlimited millions -- that are now pouring into the system with no accountability, no disclosure.

This is a significant limit.

"The Wall Street Journal" reported Friday that nearly two-thirds of all the soft-money contributions in the last election cycle came from those who gave more than the $120,000 limit for a two-year cycle. That is part of our bill.

Two-thirds of the soft-money contributors in the last cycle would have been subject to this cap.

And I say to those who question the cap, whether it is relevant, important, or whether it does anything, I think "The Wall Street Journal" numbers address that issue.

WATERS: Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican from Nebraska, arguing for his alternative to the McCain-Feingold bill, and alleging that several of his colleagues are moving in his direction. President George W. Bush, you may recall, has given a signal that he supports the Chuck Hagel bill, which argues for a cap of $120,000 on soft money donations to political parties over a two-year election cycle, but also argues for disclosure of who those contributors are -- something that's not now required.

Because President Bush has signalled that he supports Hagel, that has forced Hagel to say that he's not intending to help President Bush at the expense of John McCain, who as you know, campaigned for president on campaign finance reform. Yesterday, on television, Hagel said the Shakespearian drama and intrigue of me somehow being the point of the spear being used by George Bush to get to John McCain is a complete fabrication.

So you're getting an idea of the debate before the Senate, which is expected to go on for a couple of weeks on campaign finance reform. And we'll be following it all.

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