A TALE OF TWO HEARINGS
September 24, 1997
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REP. DAN BURTON: Today our committee will begin the process of explaining to the American people how foreign money was funneled into our political system and how illegal contributions were made during the past several years.
KWAME HOLMAN: And right at the start Committee Chairman Republican Dan Burton of Indiana admitted his committee was running into the same problems getting witnesses to appear as his Senate colleagues have.
REP. DAN BURTON: Of the 58 people not available to the House or Senate investigators, 36 have asserted the Fifth Amendment privileges before this committee or the Senate committee; 11 witnesses have left the country; and 11 foreign witnesses have refused to be interviewed by investigative bodies.
KWAME HOLMAN: And so the first matter of business for the committee today was to vote on grants of immunity for three perspective witnesses, including the sister of Charlie Trie, a one-time major contributor to the Democratic National Committee and frequent visitor to the Clinton White House. Trie has since left the country. Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat, said he would vote for immunity, even though he believes the witnesses will have little to contribute to the investigation.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN, (D) California: I've reviewed the statements by these three witnesses, and those statements did not substantiate the claim made by the chairman that they know anything about the DNC and that they can shed light on the practices of the Democratic National Committee. I support immunity, however, because these witnesses have been put in possible legal jeopardy. Chairman Burton's staff questioned them in secret, without attorneys present, or any understanding of the implication of their statements.
KWAME HOLMAN: Early on, there was evidence this committee has the potential to be more partisan than the Senate Committee has been. And with nearly three times as many members it certainly has more opportunity to be so.
REP. TOM LANTOS, (D) California: The bulk of the witnesses appearing both before the Senate committee and this committee were of Asian origin. Now, I believe that there is a grave danger that stereotyping and Asian bashing will become and in many instances have become part and parcel of this investigation.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS, (R) Connecticut: Mr. Speaker.
REP. DAN BURTON: Mr. Shays.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I was a--
REP. DAN BURTON: The gentleman is recognized for five minutes.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I was a member of a committee chaired by Mr. Lantos, and this committee had hearing after hearing about Japanese-owned businesses. And never once did I ever complain that all the people before us were Japanese businessmen or ever make a complaint that somehow we were race-baiting.
REP. JOE SCARBOROUGH, (R) Florida: I think this really shows once again how desperate members of the Democratic Party are to change the subject, instead of reviewing the information before them. And I would hope that as we go through this hearing, that we can maintain some civility and the charges of racism and race-baiting towards Asian-Americans isn't commonplace because certainly I think most reasonable people understand that we're just going where the information is leading us.
KWAME HOLMAN: The committee went on to approve immunity for its first three witnesses, but completing that process will take time. The first testimony is not expected until mid October.
Meanwhile, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee today continued to analyze ways to change the federal campaign finance system ahead of next Senate's floor debate. A panel of public policy experts agreed any new law must ban unregulated so-called soft money contributions that last year generated $250 million for the Democratic and Republican Parties.
ANN McBRIDE, President, Common Cause: If you look at what this committee exposed about foreign contributions, which was a huge problem in the 1996 election, these contributions, many of which were already legal, simply would not have found a way into the system if this huge unlimited, unregulated system did not exist.
KWAME HOLMAN: Panel members likened political money to water. It will find a place to flow, and said, therefore, a soft money ban must be coupled with restrictions on the now unregulated spending of advocacy groups. In 1996, such groups produced hundreds of political attack ads like this one.
NARRATOR: (Political Ad) Who is Bill Yellowtail? He preaches family values, but he took a swing at his wife. And Yellowtail's explanation--he only slapped her but her nose was not broken.
SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D) Michigan: That is a so-called issue ad. I think in anybody's view that is a candidate advocacy or opposition ad. I mean, in the topsy turvy world of campaign finance that is an issue ad. The bill would correct that by saying that ad would be treated as an advocacy ad, a candidate ad, an express advocacy ad that has to be paid for with regulated dollars.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some Republicans on the committee said restricting political spending amounts to restricting free speech; however, Chairman Fred Thompson said campaign finance reform, even if it's incremental, is overdue.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON, Chairman, Governmental Affairs Committee: It was pointed out the more we spend, the less people vote. When they look at a system where they're lucky if they can come up with a couple of hundred dollars to contribute and they look at a system where corporations and labor unions are contributing hundreds of thousands, it just doesn't have anything to do with what they're a part of. It's irrelevant. That system, that sort of system is irrelevant to them. I think it's become a no-brainer. And we can argue over the details of it, but I think it's becoming clearer and clearer that we have to move in the right direction. Thank you.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate committee continues analyzing ways to reform campaign financing tomorrow.