THE REGIONAL TAKE
October 1, 1997
The Online Explainers take your question on the investigation.
The NewsHour's coverage of the Congressional Investigation.
The inside stories on the political fight behind the public investigation.
The investigation is big news in Washington, but how's it playing around the country.
A closer look at the issues really under scrutiny by the Congress.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For eight weeks a Senate committee has held hearings on campaign fund-raising. Next week the full Senate is expected to vote on reform legislation, the McCain-Feingold bill. For reactions to all this we turn to Patrick McGuigan of the Daily Oklahoman; Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe; Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution; Robert Kittle of the San Diego Union Tribune; and Lee Cullum of the Dallas Morning News. Thank you all for being with us. Mike Barnicle, how should campaign finance be reformed?
MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: Well, you know, I don't know. I think one of the ways they could reform it is to just let them raise as much money as they want to but with the contingency that they cannot hire consultants and speech writers to follow them around as candidates; that they can only have two staff people, one to drive and one to make them a peanut butter sandwich on the road, and that they would actually have to stand up and give us their true beliefs on issues without scripts, without the prepared remarks that are made for these people during the course of campaigns, without negative TV ads. Let's find out what they're all about. We know that they can raise money. Now let's find out what they think.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee Cullum, how do you think campaign finance should be reformed?
LEE CULLUM, Dallas Morning News: Well, Elizabeth, I like an amendment that's been proposed to the McCain-Feingold bill, proposed by McCain and Feingold, themselves, that would require candidates running for the House and the Senate to raise just over half--50.1 percent of their money in their home states. This seems to me a very useful way of reminding these candidates whom they're supposed to be representing. Now, unfortunately, this amendment would make this provision voluntary and would tie it to a reduced rate, a 50 percent cut in the television rate. I don't think it should be voluntary. I don't think it should be tied to television. There's another good provision in this amendment that would require candidates to raise only 25 percent of their money from political action committees. These are good reforms. They should stand alone, with no quid pro quo.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Patrick McGuigan, where do you stand on this?
PATRICK McGUIGAN, Daily Oklahoman: Well, I'm closer to Mike than to Lee, but I must say that the problem I have in this debate is the whole idea of making the First Amendment optional. I don't think that's a good idea. The First Amendment provides for vigorous campaign speech, that is, political speech, that is the primary purpose behind formation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. And, you know, we live in an era where there's justification provided for some of the worst kind of pornography and where burning flags is supposedly protecting speech, and yet, the status of pure political speech is placed in doubt. I believe that we ought to try liberty. And that would mean you could have full campaign disclosure, disclosure of every cent contributed, but other than that, not much regulation. I think further tinkering with the system of campaign finance along the lines that we began after the Watergate era will just bring us more headaches. I would rather try a different approach, which opens things up. I tend to agree that we don't have enough political speech, not that we have too much.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia Tucker, do you agree with the concerns just expressed by Mike--I'm sorry--by Pat about First Amendment concerns?
CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Constitution: Absolutely not. I disagree with Pat entirely on this one and to some extent disagree with the Supreme Court. The First Amendment guarantees our right to say what we please, especially in the political arena. Nowhere does it guarantee our right to raise that money from all kinds of special interests who are then going to turn around and expect their elected officials to advance their positions once in office. Unfortunately, in 1976, the Supreme Court agreed with Pat to a certain extent, it equated political fund-raising with speech. And as long as that ruling stays in place we're going to have a hard time reforming campaign finance laws. I do think, however, that opening up the floodgates to even more of the kind of wretched excess that we saw in the last elections can only bring us more trouble. And if, in fact, Pat believes that there ought to be fewer regulations, why are the Republicans spending so much time investigating the fund-raising activities of Clinton and Gore in the last election cycle?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pat, you want to respond to that?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: Sure. If regulation of political activity is such a good idea, let's try enforcing the laws that we already have. That would be a concept. I disagree that the solution to the problems we have in our political culture is further government tinkering. You know, some people don't like editorials, particularly editorial endorsements of candidates. Are we going to have a proposal that like George Will speculated the other day, that the First Amendment means what it says, except that you can regulate editorial writers and regulate newspapers and control what people say and when they say it in campaigns? I don't think further tinkering with the system is the solution. But let's--if regulation--heavy regulation of political campaign speech is a good idea, let's enforce the laws we already have, including those that were violated in the '96 cycle by our President and Vice President.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bob Kittle, what about that, should the laws be enforced that are already there, or do we need a new law like McCain-Feingold?
ROBERT KITTLE, San Diego Union Tribune: We need two things. We need both actually. There is ample evidence that existing laws were violated in the '96 campaign, not only in terms of the illegal solicitations that Vice President Gore made but potentially phone calls that the President made as well that may have violated the law, but perhaps, more importantly, the Asian money that appears to have been laundered into the President's re-election campaign. We need a vigorous investigation of that to find out whether laws were, indeed, broken. And that's why need a special prosecutor. And that's why Janet Reno should name one. But, secondly, we also do need some limits on soft money. We need to drastically rein in the unregulated flow of money that goes to candidates indirectly in the soft money format into the parties. Last year more than a $1/4 billion in soft money was contributed. A number of unions and corporations contributed more than $1 million unregulated money into the re-election campaigns. And that kind of money buys influence. And we can't eliminate the influence of money from politics but we certainly can restrict it to some extent, and we don't want unions or corporations or anyone else being able to contribute a million dollars to a candidate and, therefore, buy his vote when he's elected.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, in your view, what should be the key goal of campaign finance reform? Is it to clean it up? Is it to make sure that ordinary citizens have the same kind of access as special interests? What is the main goal?
MIKE BARNICLE: Actually, I think they should focus on reality before they even get to goals. And the reality is that this bill is right now in the United States Senate where you have a majority of people behaving like heroin addicts, trying to detox themselves, without first admitting that they are addicted to incumbency and fund-raising. They're not going to do anything. This has been going on for years. It's not a Republican problem or a Democratic problem. It's a cost containment problem. It's the excessive cost of campaigns, the excessive cost of television commercials. The fact that you have consultants being paid millions of dollars a year to perpetrate a hoax on a largely unsuspecting electorate by putting forward people who are not what they appear to be in these TV ads--and as a result, we find ourselves in this mess today, the ludicrous situation where you're going to have a special prosecutor perhaps appointed to find out whether Albert Gore used the red phone or the white phone on his desk to make a phone call. It's ridiculous.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia, do you think that we need to pay more attention to reality and less to goals, or do you think there's a goal that is really crucial, like giving ordinary people more access to the system?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: There is a goal that is crucial, and you just named it. The fact of the matter is if we decide, if we, in fact, stick to the idea that money is speech, money is directly tied to the First Amendment, and if we don't allow politicians to raise as much money as they can, we restrict their right to free speech, then what about those of us who don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to give to a candidate, does that mean we have no speech? It certainly means we don't have any access. And that's one of the realities on Capitol Hill at the moment. I found Roger Tamraz's testimony before Congress refreshing because he admitted why he gave $300,000 to the Clinton campaign. He wanted access. And when asked--because he didn't apparently get the results he wanted--when asked would he do anything differently, he said, yes, next time I'd give $600,000. Well, those of us who don't have $600,000 to contribute have no access. And if we believe that money is speech, we don't have free speech in this country either.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Well, thank you all very much for being with us.