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Lazio denies Hillary Clinton's 'soft money' charges

Republican New York Senate candidate Rep. Rick Lazio on Monday denied a claim by opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton that he had used so-called "soft money" contributions to finance recent TV campaign ads.

Lazio made his comments during an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live." The following is a transcript of that interview.

KING: Good evening. We've got a great show for you tonight, and we begin with Congressman Rick Lazio. He's on the trail in Buffalo, New York, tonight. He marched in the Columbus Day parade yesterday.

It's your day today, right, Rick?

REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: Lorenzo, I'm so happy today, lot of Italian-American pride today.

KING: Today I am Lorenzo, and you're up in Buffalo, New York.

How different for you was the second debate from the first?

LAZIO: Well, I think it had a different tempo. I think we slowed it up a little bit.

The first debate was very important for me in terms of being able to establish that I had the ability to lead, that we could stand up against somebody who had been first lady.

The second debate, I think, was about establishing that I have had a record of being effective for New York, talking about delivering for New York, the issues that I have been involved in. And the range of issues, everything from being on the first balanced budget -- committee that wrote the first balanced budget to lowering taxes to writing environmental legislation, helping the disabled go back to work and writing landmark legislation, overhauling our housing laws.

KING: If you had to do it over again, would you still cross over to her podium as you did in the first one? LAZIO: Well, I chained myself to podium this time, Larry. But it was...

KING: But was that...

LAZIO: It was an important moment, though, I think in terms of getting the agreement on the ban on soft money. I don't think if but for that fact we would have ever had an agreement, because obviously the Clinton camp didn't really want to come to this agreement. So I was glad it led to that agreement.

But I also thought it was important in round two to talk about the issues and the differences between the candidates and the philosophical differences. There are philosophical differences, there are differences in temperament and style and, of course, in record, you know, my legislative record, having a record that I think is relevant for this job.

KING: How difficult is it -- and no one would know it better than you -- to run against someone who is the first lady of the United States? No one has ever been in your position?

LAZIO: It is historically unique. You're running against the White House and all the power and all the influence of that, that represents, and in particular this White House, which we know is deeply engaged in politics at a whole range of different levels.

And I think you just have to stand up and say, you know what? I trust the people. You stay out there, you talk about the issues, talk about my record, talk about the ability to work in a bipartisan way.

I think one thing that's a real strength for me in this race is that people look at me and they say, here's a real New Yorker. Here is somebody who has had a record of fighting and delivering for New York. Here's somebody who's crossed party lines, who's worked in a bipartisan way, who's actually written and passed major legislation and who's made sure that New York gets properly protected in a whole range different issues from children's health to transportation formulas and housing issues.

So I'm really proud of that, and I'm really proud of the fact that I think people look at me and say, this is a guy that I think others can work well with. And in a legislative body, it's so important to have the skills to build good relationships and to have that kind of trust, where people, Republicans and Democrats, say, you know, I can work with this person. I want to work with this person.

KING: By the way, the first lady, Hillary Clinton, was invited to appear tonight and declined.

She has accused you -- and apparently The New York Times, I think, backed her up -- of breaking the no-soft-money pledge. She says that you accepted $1.8 million of television ads from the RNC and were forced to return it only when it became public.

LAZIO: Well, that's not true. As a matter of fact, what happened was we had ban on a soft money. The contributions that I had was hard money, which is sort of clean, hard, legitimate money that's protected under McCain-Feingold, which is exactly what our agreement was. They agreed with it. But you know what? They objected, and the very next day, I said, I'm not going to give them an excuse to break the agreement, so we'll gladly refund the money, and that's the end of the story.

So I think what's important here is that we stay on message. There's only one candidate here who has twice voted for campaign finance reform, only one candidate that pushed for the agreement to ban soft money. I would have preferred to have had a comprehensive agreement. I would have referred to have the public in the room when we were negotiating it. I would have preferred to have had a written agreement. They don't want to have any of those things. Now I think I know why.

KING: How tough -- I remember in the days when Giuliani was going to be the candidate, and you would appear on this show, and many encouraging you to make the run, and -- how tough an opponent is she?

LAZIO: Well, again, you know, this is historically unique, Larry. You have -- you're running against the White House. They are well financed.

KING: But her as an opponent.

LAZIO: Well, I mean -- this is -- this is a tough candidate who is, you know, well focused on -- on the political side of things. And, of course, we are getting outspent in this race. So they have raised probably over $10 million in soft money, which they have already spent. In attack ads against me, they have shown a complete willingness to go on the attack right away.

And, you know, you have all kinds of other issues, which are just silly issues. For example, the very first day I got into the race, you know, they had little private people with cameras -- you know, the sort of campaign operatives with cameras trying to harass. And they do that with my wife right now. And we have tried to ignore that and stay focused on...

KING: What do you mean? Harassing your wife, how?

LAZIO: Oh, they just, you know, they try to -- to tape, to have people and tape us, everything we do, and try and film everything that we do. So, you know, I'm almost reluctant to mention it, because I just have come to accept that that is the way they do business. We don't do that. You know, we...

KING: Are you saying -- are you saying, Rick, that they are playing dirty politics?

LAZIO: I'm just saying they play a different brand of politics than I'm willing to play. I think we are taking the high road. That is the way I have had my public career. I think it is a public career that people look at and say: This a man who has shown integrity in his public service. I do this because I think this is the most important thing that I can do for my children. You know, there is a reason why I live -- I leave my two little girls, Molly and Kelsey, every week, and go down to Washington and serve the people in Congress. And that's because I really believe in this job. I also think it has been an outstanding opportunity.

And I think about today, particularly Columbus Day, all those Italian-Americans who came over, and worked so hard, and sacrificed so much, and dealt with such bigotry and bias, and overcame it -- and all those people that gave me the opportunity to serve, to go from Ellis Island -- my family -- to go from Ellis Island to my dad having a small auto-parts business, to me going to the halls of Congress.

You know, they say only in America. But it's because of a lot of sacrifice of a lot of people that came before me.

KING: Some more minutes with Congressman Rick Lazio, candidate for the United States Senate in New York -- and then our panel -- and then Dick Cheney.

First these words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: Last month, Mr. Lazio said that this was an issue of trust and character. He was right. And if New Yorkers can't trust him to keep his word for 10 days, how can they trust him for six years on issues like Social Security, Medicare, prescription drugs and education?

LAZIO: Mrs. Clinton, please, no lectures from Motel 1600 on campaign finance reform. I mean, the fact is, I took a legitimate contribution of clean hard money. My opponent objected. So, because I have such a commitment to campaign finance reform and to this agreement that I fought so hard for, I refunded the money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIA KRAMER, WCBS-TV: ... frankly, Mrs. Clinton, they wanted to know why, after all the revelations and pain of the last few years, and because you are such a role model, why you stayed with your husband?

CLINTON: Well, you know, Marcia, I've answered that question and I've addressed it in various forums. I've made my choices. I'm here with my daughter, of whom I'm very proud. We have a family that means a lot to us. And I'm going to continue to stand up and speak out for what I believe, what I think is important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAZIO: Well, I think this was Mrs. Clinton's choice, and I respect whatever choice that she makes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Rick, was that question out of place in the debate?

LAZIO: Well, I just don't think it's important to the race. I think that the people of New York want to hear about the issues, the philosophical difference between the candidates, and who's going to have the ability to be effective and protect New York. And I'm not sure that that question is relevant to those things.

KING: John McCain was here last week. He's very angry, Rick. He says the Republicans in the Senate are holding up a bill that passed out of his committee unanimously -- the Democrats are all in favor of it -- to get tough on the tire companies, to force them to report more on accidents and keep up a better safety record. Do you call on the Republicans in the Senate to let this out for a vote?

LAZIO: Well, there's a few bills that are out there. I think that it's important for there to be some sense of liability and accountability. If there are lives that have been endangered and people knew about it and were willing to go forward and make money despite the fact that there were lives jeopardized, I think that that is criminal, and I think it's important that we make a statement like that.

And that's sort of an example of the different ways in which -- I believe there are times when you have to separate yourself from the party to do the right thing. I've done that on campaign financial reform, public funding for the arts, on the environment many, many times, on family planning and abortion.

I think there are just times when you've got to stand up and on conscience, because you're representing the people that you do, stand up and say, you know, party labels aside, we've got to do the right thing.

KING: What do we do, congressman, if war breaks out in the Middle East?

LAZIO: Boy, I tell you, we must be very prepared right now. As I understand it, the Israeli Cabinet is meeting as we speak. I think America made a big mistake in not exercising its veto power over the Security Council resolution condemning Israel. I think it was an equivocation of our consistent support for the security of Israel.

It was not Israel who incited this violence. It was really the Palestinians. And I called upon four days ago or five days ago, called for the president to speak out and say, you know, Yasser Arafat must do -- must speak out, must make the statement and must put an end to this violence.

You have to remember Arafat is the one who's got these training camps for Palestinian children teaching them how to kill Israeli children. I mean, this is not what we want to tolerate.

We need to make a very strong statement. It seems to me, if you don't stand for something, you'll put up with anything. And I think that's very much a part of the difference even between the candidates in this case.

I was very adamant about the fact, as soon as I heard about the fact that America had not exercised its veto, I went out there, didn't need a poll, just based on principle: This was the wrong thing to do. We need to stand by Israel. Israel needs to know that we will be in Israel's corner.

I personally believe that the survival of the Jewish people depends on the survival of the Jewish state, Israel. And we need to stand foursquare behind Israel.

KING: Mrs. Clinton keeps linking you to Gingrich, so this question is fair. Let's say you're elected to the Senate, a key vote comes up, and Trent Lott calls you and says, Rick, we need you on this. Do you automatically go with him?

LAZIO: No, no, no, no. Of course, that's not what I've done in the House. You know, Mrs. Clinton keeps bringing up Newt Gingrich's name. He's been out of office for a couple of years. If she wants to run against Newt Gingrich, she should move down to Georgia.

This is about New York, and New Yorkers know that I have been an independent voice, been able to separate from the party on a whole range of different issues. That doesn't mean that I always separate from the party. There are some things that I agree with them on. I agreed with them on a balanced budget. I agreed with them on tax relief for families. I agree with them on ending the marriage penalty. I agree with them on a strong national security. There's a whole range different issues that I agree with my colleagues on.

But there are some moments when you have to just say we're going to put New York first.

I think for a lot of people they look at my record and they say, you know, this is kind of an anomaly for a Republican to be for an assault weapons ban or to support the Brady Bill but to be for a balanced budget or to be for lower taxes, and to be an advocate for cancer patients or the homeless or the disabled. But I think that that reflects New York.

And the fact that I have been successful, have been effective just reflects the fact that I've been able to be bipartisan, build good relationships, and get the job done. I think that's very important for New York.

I think the best compassion is a plan that works.

KING: According to the polls, congressman, Gore is -- should win New York state. You will therefore, assuming that's true, need a lot of ticket splitting.

LAZIO: Right, right.

KING: Can you get enough to win it?

LAZIO: Yes, no doubt. Just tonight, as a matter of fact, we were up in Buffalo and we had a dinner of several hundred people. I would say three-quarters of the people that were there were self- described Democrats, and there for me. And that's exactly what you want to see. You want to see people who are willing to put their party label aside and vote for a New Yorker who's got a record, who's got an established record of delivering for New York.

You know, Larry, New Yorkers send $15 billion a year more to Washington than we get back. I think New Yorkers want to have somebody that will stand up and say, you know what, we're going to get our fair share with this fellow. He's going to stand up for us.

KING: Thanks, congressman. We'll be seeing you a few more times before this over.

LAZIO: Good, Larry. Good talking to you.

KING: Always the same. And happy Columbus Day.

LAZIO: Thank you very much, Lorenzo.

KING: Thank you, Ricko. Congressman Rick Lazio, Republican candidate for the United States Senate in New York.

 
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