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September 29, 1997
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KWAME HOLMAN: One of the key elements of the Senate's campaign finance reform bill sponsored by Senators McCain and Feingold says a non-union employee in a union workplace who is required to contribute money to the union can request that money not be used for political purposes.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R) Arizona: The bill would require that all labor unions give notice to non-union individuals who are forced to pay agency fees annual notice of their Beck rights. Such notice would occur by mail. They must inform the worker how much money he or she could receive.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Majority Leader Trent Lott today said why not extend that option to union members as well and introduced an amendment to McCain-Feingold that would require it.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: Most Americans would be shocked to learn that some workers in our nation are forced to contribute to a candidate or a campaign they don't support, they don't know anything about. They have no way of directing where those funds go. Because of that abuse this amendment--the Pay Check Protection Act--is an essential element to genuine campaign reform. It requires that all political contributions be voluntary.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sen. Lott--like most Republicans--opposes the McCain-Feingold bill and it's believed his amendment, if adopted, would chase away pro-labor Democrats, effectively killing any chance for campaign finance reform.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Reluctantly, I must oppose the amendment before the Senate. I do so not because I disagree with its intent. In fact, I strongly support what it seeks to do but as with all difficult choices, a decision must be made. In this case I must decide that passage of overall campaign finance reform must be the Senate's first goal. The fight with my friends on the other side of the aisle over this issue loomed large for some time. To be frank, this was certainly one of the most contentious issues we faced. In fact, inclusion of Beck language in the bill nearly fractured our bipartisan coalition; however, in the end all involved came to the same conclusion that I have today. We must put the goal of overall campaign finance reform first.
KWAME HOLMAN: Then it was co-sponsor Feingold, who was put on the defensive, as he was challenged by Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on another of the bill's proposals, a provision that would define and restrict so-called express advocacy advertising, which calls for the defeat of a specific candidate.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL, (R) Kentucky: The court has been very, very clear since Buckley that it's impermissible for the Congress to shut these people up when they seek to criticize us. And an effort to say that in proximity to the election they can't criticize us would be an exercise in futility.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D) Wisconsin: First, the Senator from Kentucky focused his debate last year against our bill on the PAC ban, which is no longer in the bill. Then he focused on the soft money ban. Then he focused on the issue of whether or not voluntary incentives could be given. In each case the Senator from Kentucky concluded emphatically on the floor and off the floor that it is plainly unconstitutional. Well, he doesn't have a leg to stand on anymore in those. One hundred and twenty-six constitutional scholars have said to him wrong, wrong, and wrong. So now he's moving to another discussion. Now he's going to put up another fig leaf in front of this obvious attempt to keep the current system in the form of a--
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: Mr. President, I would caution the Senator from Wisconsin that this is supposed to be a civil debate. I don't know whether he's violating Rule 19 or not, but I have the floor.
KWAME HOLMAN: Within a short time Sen. McCain returned to the floor and challenged Sen. McConnell.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I want to return to the fundamental problem here with the Senator from Kentucky. I would ask him in return, does he believe that these independent--so-called independent campaigns are truly independent?
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: Well, if they aren't, if it's an independent expenditure which is required under the law--
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I'm talking about are they independent, are they really independent in what any of us would define as the word "independent," or are they just additional methods to get around contribution limits in order to defeat another candidate?
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: Yes. Is the Senator talking about independent expenditures or express advocacy?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I'm talking about independent campaigns. I'm talking about a problem. What drives independent campaigns, as the Senator from Kentucky well knows is the definition of independent expenditure and express advocacy, which we are changing. Now, I'm asking the Senator from Kentucky again, does he believe that in the last campaign the attacks by labor, for example, in Congressional District 6, where over $2 million was spent by labor, with Congressman J. D. Heyworth's face distorted on the screen, sometimes morphing into that of Newt Gingrich--does the Senator from Kentucky believe that that was an independent campaign against Congressman J. D. Heyworth?
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: What I believe it was an engagement in issue advocacy and--
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: You really believe that that was an issue advocacy ad, when they said Congressman J. D. Heyworth is an enemy of every man, woman, and child in Arizona?
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: The Supreme Court has said that it is issue advocacy unless the words "vote for," "elect," "support," "cast your ballot," "Smith for Congress," "vote against," "defeat," or "reject"--the court lists the magic words here--it's not really gray. And I think the reason the court did this is that they wanted to encourage citizens to be free to be critical of us any time they want to.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senate debate on campaign finance reform continues through this week, with votes on amendments expected next week.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner has more.
MARGARET WARNER: With me now are former Democratic Senator and Vice President of the United States Walter Mondale--he most recently served as ambassador to Japan--and former Republican Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker. Last March, President Clinton asked them to investigate and make recommendations on reforming the campaign finance process. In June, they responded with three recommendations: a ban on soft money, more rapid, in-depth disclosure of political contributions and expenses, and stronger enforcement of campaign finance laws by a more independent Federal Election Commission. Today, as reported earlier, they released a list of 79 other former members of Congress who have joined in support of those recommendations. Welcome both of you.
Mr. Vice President, McCain-Feingold, that bill has many of the same elements as your recommendations. Do you think it comes close enough to what you all thought--think has to be done?
WALTER MONDALE, Former Vice President: Yes, I support McCain-Feingold.
NANCY KASSEBAUM BAKER, Former Senator (R) Kansas: Yes, we certainly do support the concept. I think both of us also believe that the concept issue advocacy advertising should be tightened.
MARGARET WARNER: Which is what we just saw this debate about.
NANCY KASSEBAUM BAKER: Yes.
WALTER MONDALE: The key point in our proposals and in this issue is what happens to soft money. Soft money is a loophole that has taken over campaign financing just the last say eight years at the most. There are no limits in how much people can contributions. Almost every example in these recent Senate hearings is of soft money. Mr. Tamraz gave $300,000, said he was going to give $600,000. Money can come from corporate treasuries, and it can come from union treasuries, and it is a--the system has broken down. That's what we're talking about, closing that loophole so that we can get back not to stopping people from speaking or campaign--that will continue--but to have some kind of reasonable restraints upon how much can be given--the disclosures and so on, so that the public can trust this thing again. That's what's at issue.
MARGARET WARNER: Of course, these soft money contributions are to the parties. Do you think, Senator, that the parties could survive without these huge infusions, I mean, millions and millions of dollars, if they had to collect them in $1,000 increments?
NANCY KASSEBAUM BAKER: I certainly do. In fact, we feel strongly that it will help broaden the contributions because people will then feel their own individual contribution will matter more. I think it will encourage people to get out and work in their blocks and in their communities and contribute because everybody should contribute. This isn't cutting off access to anybody. And I think it makes people feel that they've got more at stake in the process than just some very wealthy contributors. So you may have to work a little harder but it will be more important in the long run, I think, to strengthening the parties.
MARGARET WARNER: And the Senator raised the issue advocacy. It has several different terms, but the gist of the recommendation is that if one of these independent groups runs ads mentioning any candidate by name near the election, then, as I understand it, there--any donations made would be subjected to the same restrictions, thousand dollars, or whatever it is. Why is that important?
WALTER MONDALE: It's important because what we're seeing now are ads that do everything but name the candidate and say vote for him, or vote against him. As Sen. McCain pointed out, this one example of all this money being spent accusing this person of all kinds of things, but not saying those last words, "vote against him"--there is the argument that this is what they call "issue advocacy." In other words, it's not campaigning. Everybody knows it's campaigning. That's what's going on. So in addition to closing off the soft money loophole for direct campaigning, you need to define what is campaigning in a way that this sort of thing that is campaigning but now is not so construed will be included in the basket. Otherwise, the fear is we'll close this one loophole and more money will just show up in the other way.
MARGARET WARNER: The Tamrazes will just end up giving to these new groups or old groups that funnel the money.
WALTER MONDALE: A different way of doing it, right.
NANCY KASSEBAUM BAKER: Margaret, I think it's important to show that this really didn't become a problem until after 1988. In 1980 and '84, only $20 million was spent on so-called "soft money": get out the vote, voter registration and so forth. In the last election $270 million was spent. So, you know, it's been an enormous growth.
WALTER MONDALE: And I just heard yesterday that the rate of soft money raising now is at two and a half times that of four years ago. So this is going straight up. And this is--this is serious business. And this is new, and it's different, and it is--it raises the risk of corrupting the whole system.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But what do you say to a group, an established group, whether it's pro-environmental or anti-abortion, that says, we want to tell our members we're not trying to--we're not coordinated with any other campaign, but we want to get out there and criticize incumbent members of Congress whose voting records we don't like and this would restrict us?
NANCY KASSEBAUM BAKER: They can do it. Why does it restrict them? It doesn't tell them they can't do it.
MARGARET WARNER: It just says they have to use a different kind of regulated money to.
NANCY KASSEBAUM BAKER: Well, yes, as does everybody else, as do the candidates, themselves. I think it doesn't limit one's voice. There are so many means now of being on the air, of being able to reach people that these types of ads, though, are distortions. And they're not just issue. You can raise the issue, and if you want to tell a candidate's record, there are many ways that pamphlets are put under windshield wipers in parking lots and, you know, attending public meetings, and there's every means of getting out a candidate's position in a way that it should be.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me turn to the other most contentious issue that came up today having to do with labor unions and how they get money from their members. Now, as you know, in McCain-Feingold it would at least let the non-union members say, hey, I don't want my money used for political contributions. The Republicans would like to extend that to all union members. Do you think that's a good idea?
WALTER MONDALE: If you close off soft money, there will be no union treasury money used in these campaigns. Today the federal system allows unions to go out and collect voluntary money called PAC money. That's the money they can use. But they can't get it unless a member gives it. It's voluntary. It's different from what you just heard described.
MARGARET WARNER: So you're--
WALTER MONDALE: What permits the use of union treasury money is the soft money loophole. We propose to close that loophole and then this kind of money cannot be raised. That's the answer to the question we just heard debated together with redefining what is campaigning in a way to include these where names are used just before the election. And that is--that answers the question. So, No. 1, most money would--all money would be raised voluntarily if that law--if the McCain-Feingold passed.
NANCY KASSEBAUM BAKER: And, of course, the PAC money is under federal election laws, so it's limited.
MARGARET WARNER: But then why are Republicans so eager to get that provision, if it's essentially meaningless?
WALTER MONDALE: It's what's called a killer amendment strategy. This--it's undeniable that if you close off the soft money loophole, which we propose, it applies to union treasury money, as well as corporations and wealthy Americans, then the only way that unions can spend money in a federal election is with PAC money. All that money has to be raised voluntarily.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you a political question about the Republicans. Right now only four Republicans in the Senate have declared their support for McCain-Feingold. I mean, you just left the Senate a year ago. What do you think it's going to take to move enough of your former colleagues in support of it, enough to break a filibuster, which is essentially ten more, even more members?
NANCY KASSEBAUM BAKER: A growing realization that it is important to the public. We believe it is, and we feel strongly it should be bipartisan, that it shouldn't just get on to the floor as a very partisan political debate, that it's important to everybody. And I think there is growing momentum, but the key will be if the public really believes something can be done.
MARGARET WARNER: What more--how does the--they tell pollsters that they want campaign finance reform--I mean, what more can they do?
NANCY KASSEBAUM BAKER: Because not much has happened, and there's a lot of cynicism about, oh, well, it's just going to continue the same old way. I think the press paying attention to it makes a difference. I think the belief that there is some growing momentum will come, and understanding that this is not a First Amendment issue. I truly believe as long as you're not cutting off access you really can make some changes that are going to be beneficial to the process. And I think the public, as they come to see this through this debate--and I think the debate is very useful--because much of this just sort of happened without Congress really getting into a major debate on how things have changed and why we need to then begin to look at it in ways that can make it more effective.
MARGARET WARNER: Your assessment of the prospects of something this year.
WALTER MONDALE: I am encouraged but I realize it's difficult. I think we've made a lot of progress from four months ago. It's now on the Senate floor. These arguments are being heard. I think we have an improved chance. Now, with the announcement of support by all these former Senators and members of the House and so on, three--there are three former Presidents of the United States called for the end of soft money--I think we've got a chance. But it's still a struggle.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, Mr. Vice President, Senator, thank you both very much.
JIM LEHRER: There are those who disagree with Vice President Mondale and Sen. Kassebaum Baker and tomorrow night we will look at the other side of this debate with two political activists who are opposed to restricting soft money and similar contributions.