ONE FOR THE BOOKS
MARCH 4, 1997
Controversies involving politics and money are nothing new, but the 1996 election season saw the intermingling of the two raised to record levels. And, almost daily, President Clinton and Vice President Gore continue to defend themselves against new charges of campaign financing improprieties. Jim Lehrer leads a historical discussion of money and politics with presidential historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss, journalist/author Haynes Johnson and William Kristol, editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard.
JIM LEHRER: Now and once again: money and politics. President Clinton was asked, again, about his campaign fund-raising practices this morning, most particularly about Vice President Gore's news conference on the subject yesterday.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
March 3, 1997:
Vice President Gore said he did nothing illegal or wrong when he solicited funds for the 1996 presidential campaigns.
February 27, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion on the accusations against the White House campaign financing team .
February 25, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the growing DNC fund raising scandal with White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis.
November 28, 1996:
Margaret Warner discusses campaign finance reform with three members of Congress.
November 28, 1996:
The NewsHour's Kwame Holman reports on this year's efforts to reform campaign financing and how "soft money" may have been the biggest story of this election.
November 18, 1996:
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) discusses campaign finance reform and his party's role in the 105th Congress.
October 25, 1996:
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot discuss the role of money in this election year.
October 24, 1996:
Ross Perot blasts what he sees as President Clinton's corruption.
October 21, 1996:
Margaret Warner examines campaign money and its sources.
October 21, 1996:
A panel debates campaign finance reform and allegations of illegal foreign contributions and egregious misuse of lots of "soft money."
October 18, 1996:
Margaret Warner reports on the recent emergence of campaign finance issues on the campaign trail.
Oct. 18, 1996:
Ellen Miller, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, participates in an Online Forum on campaign finance reform.
Oct. 11, 1996:
Shields & Gigot debate the latest accusations of campaign finance abuses.
Oct. 6, 1996:
Bob Dole and Bill Clinton discuss campaign finance reform during the first presidential debate.
Sept. 29, 1996:
The leaders of Congress discuss reforming the system during the Debate Night: The Future Congress.
Aug. 16, 1996:
Margaret Warner looks at the corporate lobbying and sponsorship at the national conventions.
June 28, 1996:
Shields and Gigot look at the failed attempt to pass the McCain-Feingold reform.
June 28, 1996:
Ellen Miller participates in an Online Forum on the campaign finance reform efforts.
June 24, 1996:
Senator Feingold defends the McCain- Feingold campaign finance reform bill against an opponent
April 15, 1996:
NewsHour coverage of "soft" money contributions.
April 10, 1996:
NewsHour coverage of complaints against organized labor for millions of dollars in campaign spending.
June 24, 1996:
Senators John McCain of Arizona and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin tried, but failed, to pass campaign reform legislation.
Browse the Online NewsHour's Congressional coverage.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: No. 1, I thought he did very well, and I agree with the statement he made. And I agree that what he did was legal, but I also agree with the decision that he made. I would remind you that we knew we had a very stiff challenge. We were fighting about it not simply for our re-election but over the entire direction of the country for years to come, the most historic, philosophical battle we had in America in quite a long time -- over the direction of the budget, over our commitment to education, over whether we would dismantle large chunks of our environmental regulations and our public health regulations. It was a significant thing for America. And we knew that we were going to be out spent and out raised, but we knew we had to do everything we could to at least be competitive enough to get our message out. In fact, that is what happened. We were out spent and out raised by more than $200 million, but thanks to the Vice President's efforts and those of thousands of others and a million small donors, we were able to get our message out.
JIM LEHRER: Now, some historical perspective on money and politics. It comes from NewsHour regulars presidential historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss, Journalist and Author Haynes Johnson, joined tonight by Bill Kristol, editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard, and former Chief of Staff to then Vice President Dan Quayle. Haynes, did President Clinton and the Democrats make history in the techniques they used last year for fund-raising?
HAYNES JOHNSON, Journalist/Author: They expanded the horizons of political fund-raising beyond what it was. And the appearances, Jim, of selling the White House will hang around this presidency until it's over. I mean, it really is different in degree. I don't think it's the corruption so much as it was in Nixon's period of actual bribery, although we don't know about what may come out of all these stories. But in the way in which it was done, the scale in which it was done, the avidity with which it was done, is different to a degree than anything I think we've experienced before.
JIM LEHRER: Scale, Michael?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Big scale, and I think it's made history in the post Watergate era. You know, you have to really divide it between pre-Watergate and post-Watergate. During the early years of American history all the way through 1972, you had scenes like Mark Hannah, President McKinley's patron, going directly to banks and companies and saying you'd really better pony up for McKinley's campaign and the Republican Party, or you could have some pretty bad problems. Those practices were revived by the Nixon campaign in 1972. That's when you had Nixon fund-raisers going to various corporations and saying, unless you give us a rather large contribution, executives in your company you can have some pretty big problems with the federal government, not to mention foreign contributions and the like, and also use some of those things such as break-ins and other nefarious incidents. What we're seeing now is nothing like that, but the whole effect of Watergate and the investigation was supposed to basically throw the fear of God into future Presidents and future candidates to say even if you begin to start pushing that envelope, you're going to have bad political trouble. Before 1996 and 1995 most candidates and most Presidents had been rather careful of that. I think in 1995 and 1996 with the Clinton campaign I think you'd seen testing fate in a way that we never would have anticipated in the early 1970's.
JIM LEHRER: A testing of fate beyond what we've seen before since Watergate, Doris? Would you agree with that?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, Presidential Historian: Well, I think there's no question that it's not the corruption of the electoral process that we saw in the 19th century. I mean, it's not like secret ballots that weren't really secret, and you knew how a person voted, and you gave them money to vote your way. It's not like the old days when they actually paid people to vote the cemeteries, were paid people to vote seven times, so the electoral process may be a lot cleaner both by 20th century standards and by the disclosure laws that came about in 1971, but it seems to me that what's different here, and where there's a real subtle corruption is in the art of governance.
Think of the time that had to be spent by public servants raising money for this election because Clinton made the decision way back in ‘94 after the November revolution that Gingrich won that he had to start running right then, polling extensively right then, putting ads on that would be incredibly expensive. Money had to be raised and raising the money. Endless amount of time went into raising this money, time that should have been spent on the public business. And you cannot say that the system doesn't get tilted toward rich people, toward the people who contribute the money, when they're so needed, when you're so dependent on them. People who are in business give their money not as charity; they want something back. They want regulations. They want corporate welfare. They want stuff, and somehow that tilting has to have been happening. So I think the scale of it, the time of it, all that's happened really does put it in a different dimension from what was there before.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it, Bill, as a matter of degree?
WILLIAM KRISTOL, The Weekly Standard: Well, I think at some point differences in degree become differences in kind. And I think Doris is right, that Evelyn Lieberman, who is deputy chief of staff at the White House, wrote a memo to other senior staff members in the Clinton White House in January ‘96, told them they might have to cut back on their briefing time with the President because of the demands of fund-raising--I mean, there was a way in which the whole Clinton White House seems to have become targeted on fund-raising.
The line that previous administrations held to somewhat imperfectly but still did try to hold to between politics and governing, between the presidency and the candidate, that line seems to have been, I think, obliterated really in the Clinton White House in the last two years in a way I don't think it was in the Reagan administration or the Bush administration, or the Carter administration, really, any of the post Watergate eras.
JIM LEHRER: Now, one of the basic arguments that the President and others have made is--and he made it again today--essentially was that we needed more money because it cost more money and so obviously we had to raise more money. How does that argument ring with you, Bill?
WILLIAM KRISTOL: I think that is the most, I think, worrisome part about his defense of what he did, and in the Vice President's defense. It is Nixonian. We just saw the clip of the President basically saying you have to understand that this was a terribly important election. We were in danger of the Republican juggernaut running over us, and therefore, we had to go out and raise all this money. I mean it comes close to a Nixonian defense: that the end justifies the means. The country's well-being was at stake. They didn't have to go quite as far as they went. There was no need to have 980 guest in the Lincoln bedroom or have the Vice President of the United States directly solicit funds on the phone, which I don't think any President or Vice President had done since Watergate.
JIM LEHRER: For the record, Doris was one of the guests in the Lincoln bedroom, and we're going to get a full report on that in a moment, Doris, but I want to go to Michael first--
WILLIAM KRISTOL: (laughing) She was a low paying guest.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, Michael.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Also Nixonian: the people around Nixon said that so much pressure on us--was put on us to raise this huge amount of money in 1972, $60 million, which was a vast amount -- would be now, and particularly was in 1972 dollars. They said that the pressure put on us was so great that it was harder for us to assess the people who were giving us money, and also we had to do some things that otherwise we would not have, it's very much the kind of thing that you hear happening today.
JIM LEHRER: But, Haynes, the basic question, the assumption seems to be even in the way the Washington Post plays the original story on Vice President Gore Sunday that he made all these calls. Yet, the assumption is that corruption follows money. Big money means big corruption. The two are inseparable.
HAYNES JOHNSON: I don't think that's true, Jim, although this is, again, we're dealing with very fine lines here.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
HAYNES JOHNSON: It is true that you cannot run for public office today the way the system is now constituted unless you have vast sums of money. It is--
JIM LEHRER: And somebody's got to give it to you.
HAYNES JOHNSON: It is true, as the President says, if you are out spent, you have to raise the money if you want to win. It's true if you're in Congress or in the Senate or in any race there were $2 billion worth of campaign funds raised this last year for all the races, billion dollars. Now where do you get it? Even Ted Kennedy had to take out a second mortgage on his home when he ran for re-election in Massachusetts. You know, that tells you that there's something skewed in the process. And it has been growing and growing and growing. What's different here is the way in which the appearance of impropriety has been so, I think, really monumentally abused. It's as if no one inside was saying, hey, wait a minute, how's this going to look when it comes out because …
JIM LEHRER: You're referring specifically to the use of the White House.
HAYNES JOHNSON: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: But about the direct calls from--Doris, how do you feel about the Vice President of the United States calling somebody and asking them for money, specifically?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I think to do that when you're supposed to be a public servant, doing the public's business is really troublesome.
JIM LEHRER: No matter where you make the call.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I don't care whether you use the DNC credit card or whether you do it from the White House. And, you know, there was another choice that the President and the Vice President might have had after this whole thing took place. What if they came before us and they said, look, this campaign which we have been running for the last two years, which we think was legal, nonetheless, is tawdry, it's disgusting, it's demeaning. We did it because we thought we had to. It was the only way we thought we could win, everything Clinton just said, but let me tell you, as the President of the United States now, it has to stop. He could have been the one leading a whole campaign to really fundamentally change this system, narrow the number of minds that you can spend money, really put campaign limits on to what can be spent, get rid of soft money. When people say the public doesn't think this is a big problem, our leaders are up there telling us everything we did is legal. But what if they gave us the entirely different message, and they say, right, he couldn't unilaterally disarm, or we would have lost, the other side wasn't doing it, but let me step forward and say I'm changing this. God, that would have been great.
JIM LEHRER: Bill Kristol, did Vice President--then Vice President Quayle ask people for money?
WILLIAM KRISTOL: Not directly. I mean, not for please give $50,000. I mean, the understanding was the President and the Vice President shouldn't do that. Sure, he called supporters. He called--
JIM LEHRER: And somebody followed up afterward.
WILLIAM KRISTOL: Right. Other people followed up. He said, I hope we'll have your help, really need your support; it's going to be a tough race, and then someone from the campaign would follow up.
JIM LEHRER: Is that a distinction that's important?
WILLIAM KRISTOL: I think it is less because there's anything intrinsically corrupting about the Vice President saying, please send $50,000, rather than we need your help, but because there is something unseemly about it, and it does, again, utterly obliterate the notion that this is the President and Vice President of the United States. There are certain things they shouldn't do. They're governing the country. The campaigns, obviously candidates for re-election, also the campaigns have to do what campaigns have to do, but there should be some distinction made between the two highest officials in the land and the political campaigns. And I think that's the distinction that got lost in this election.
JIM LEHRER: How do you reform a political campaign finance system, Michael, where if it's still going to cost all these--$2 billion is what it costs--where are you going to get the money?
HAYNES JOHNSON: That's for all races.
JIM LEHRER: For all races, $2 billion--I mean, if it's going to cost that much money, is there any way to have a system that doesn't have this kind of problem of some kind
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: One way of doing it is assuring that candidates can get to the people through television by a way other than having to pay a huge amount of money to get it.
JIM LEHRER: To reduce the cost.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: To reduce the cost in some way.
JIM LEHRER: Rather than worry about how you get it.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: And that raises other problems, but, you know, you look over the last 40 years, the real increase that has been demanded has been because campaigns are now run on television. And it costs an awful lot more to put a commercial on national television than it does to buy buttons, as was done in the old days.
JIM LEHRER: Doris--yeah, go ahead, Haynes, but I've got to leave time for Doris to tell--Doris, what were the circumstances under which you were invited to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom? And tell us the whole--confess, please. Tell us all.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I was on a radio show in Washington talking about the fact that all the years I spent thinking about Roosevelt living up there in the second floor of the White House with his wife, with Lorena Hickock, his wife's friend, with Winston Churchill--
JIM LEHRER: When you were writing your book.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: When I was writing my book. My book had come out. I'm talking about the book, and talking about how I was obsessed with thinking about all these wonderful people in their robes, having fabulous conversations at night between Winston Churchill, Harry Hopkins, Eleanor, and Franklin, it happened that Hillary Clinton overheard me on the radio program.
JIM LEHRER: It was on Diane Rehm's show.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: It was on Diane Rehm's show.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And I had said I'd been up there with Lyndon Johnson when I was 23, but I never thought of asking where did Franklin and Eleanor sleep? So she called me up at the radio station. She said, well, why don't you come and sleep overnight in the White House and then we can figure out where everybody slept, so, indeed, two weeks later I did that between midnight and 2 A.M., my husband and I walked with the Clintons through every room up there and pinpointed who had been there in Roosevelt's time. Now, they had read the book that I had written on the Roosevelts. They actually knew where these rooms were. That's what makes it even harder for me to understand how this could have happened, because they have such an appreciation for it, and yet, across the hall was someone who may have paid $100,000. We were in the Churchill room. That must be regarded as the next level down.
JIM LEHRER: You weren't in the Lincoln--oh, you were not in the Lincoln bedroom?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: No. The Lincoln bedroom was across the hall.
JIM LEHRER: I misspoke.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: No. They put us out as if we were. That list says we were in the Lincoln bedroom, but, in fact, it--I'd rather be in the Churchill bedroom. Lincoln wasn't even in the Lincoln bedroom.
WILLIAM KRISTOL: Churchill was reserved for distinguished historians.
JIM LEHRER: I see. I see. But you were on the list. Is there going to be reform, Haynes?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Well, the one thing about it, Jim, when we're talking about reform, yes, public television is--airwaves are public airwaves. You can reduce the cost that way, but the political parties can shrink the time in which they run for office.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
HAYNES JOHNSON: These endless campaigns.
JIM LEHRER: They have the power to do that.
HAYNES JOHNSON: They have the power to do that, to end the primary process of one year and cut it down, and you can do that sort of thing and save a great deal of money.
JIM LEHRER: And we're going to talk about that some time. Let's move the story from here to there, and we'll talk about it all the next time. Thank you all very much.
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