September 23, 1997
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 19, 1997
Shields and Gigot discuss campaign finance reform hearings and the McCain-Feingold bill.
June 24, 1996:
A background report on introduction of the McCain-Feingold reform bill.
June 12, 1997:
Congress and the President request the FEC to amend laws concerning soft money.
March 11, 1997:
Senate expands campaign finance investigation to cover all "improper" actions.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the campaign finance investigation.
From Sen. Fussell Feingold's Web site: The Campaign Finance Reform Bill
Tom Daschle's Web site
Don Nickles' Web site
JIM LEHRER: The business of the United States Senate slowed to a crawl today. The cause was some wrangling over campaign financing, among other things. Kwame Holman begins our coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: It began like a normal legislative day on Capitol Hill. The Senate convened at 9:30 to debate a Food & Drug Administration reform bill. Seven Senate committee hearings began more or less on time, including the Finance Committee hearing on complaints against the IRS.
GOLDSTEIN: The independent board they suggest should--
KWAME HOLMAN: But exactly two hours after the hearing began, Committee Chairman William Roth was forced to end it.
SEN. WILLIAM ROTH, Chairman, Finance Committee: Mr. Goldstein, your time is up. And I do have to announce--our time is up as well. The Democrats have objected to any committee continuing hearings at this time.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senate rules allow any Senator to stop any and all committee meetings if the Senate has been in session for more than two hours. It's a seldom-used rule but it was exercised today by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
SEN. PHIL GRAMM, (R) Texas: Could we finish this round? I--very seldom happens to me, but I've had an idea. And I would like to have an opportunity to ask some questions and make a comment. Could we at least finish this round before the brown shirts come and shut us down?
SPOKESMAN: You can continue. We'll leave.
SEN. WILLIAM ROTH: Well, the--
KWAME HOLMAN: The answer was no, and so this committee and eventually all other Senate committees were forced to adjourn. Sen. Daschle shut down committee action today because he said he's frustrated by the Republicans' lack of cooperation on three separate issues. One is the Republicans' continued investigation of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu's election last fall. The second is the slow pace at which the Senate has confirmed federal judges, and third is the Republicans' refusal to schedule a vote on campaign finance reform legislation.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE, Minority Leader: We can play games on schedule, and we can position ourselves and talk about how much we're in favor of campaign finance reform. The bottom line is it's going to be more than rhetoric. We're going to get this job done.
KWAME HOLMAN: It was last Friday that a visibly angry Senator Daschle rejected Majority Leader Trent Lott's request that the Senate agree to debate campaign finance reform without setting a specific date to do so.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Obviously, if he has no intention of bringing it up until the last day, this isn't a meaningful request.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, President Clinton weighed in on the debate, threatening to call Congress into special session to consider campaign finance reform, in particular the bill he supports sponsored by Senators McCain and Feingold. In a letter to congressional leaders the President wrote, "If any attempt is made to bring this bill up in a manner that would preclude sufficient time for debate, I will call on Congress to stay in session until all of the critical elements are fully considered." Soon after receiving the letter, Majority Leader Lott came to the Senate floor to reassure members there would be adequate time to debate the McCain-Feingold bill.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: We will work now to try to determine a time to bring up consideration and debate of this issue in a way that will allow us to have time to discuss it freely; however, I--you know, we do not intend to be threatened or intimidated on this or any other issue.
KWAME HOLMAN: Ironically, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee was analyzing the McCain-Feingold bill when it too was forced to adjourn today; however, Chairman Fred Thompson managed to squeeze in a couple of hours of testimony on the issue, having shifted the committee's focus away from its seven-week-long investigative phase.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON, Chairman, Governmental Affairs Committee: We are taking these next three weeks, two to three weeks, to consider the--some of the broader issues. And this is coming at a time when we're considering legislation--apparently we're going to be considering legislation on the floor of the Senate that's relative to all of this. So we came up with a novel ideal that would probably be appropriate to consider some of these things before they became moot, and then we will go back and see where we are at that time, and if we have--the investigation will continue, the investigation will continue until December 31st.
KWAME HOLMAN: The McCain-Feingold bill would ban soft money and encourage candidates to limit their spending voluntarily. Ranking Committee Democrat John Glenn said the primary problem he's seen during the investigation is so-called soft money.
SEN. JOHN GLENN, (D) Ohio: Anyone can give soft money to a political party, and there are no limits, no limits on how much they can give. Individuals and companies have sometimes donated hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars to the major parties. Why is soft money pernicious? Well, when an individual donor can give vast amounts of money to a campaign, the potential for corruption is enormous.
KWAME HOLMAN: Nevertheless, most Republicans, such committee member Robert Bennett opposed the McCain-Feingold bill.
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT, (R) Utah: The most chilling words I have heard in this whole debate have not come from Roger Tamraz; they've come from the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives when he said we can either have fair elections or we can have freedom of speech, we can't have both. Mr. Chairman, I'm on the side of freedom of speech. I'm opposed to McCain-Feingold. I think it restricts freedom of speech. I think it's clearly unconstitutional.
KWAME HOLMAN: The two expert witnesses called by the committee today to discuss their plans for campaign finance reform said Congress faces a choice. Thomas Mann directs government studies at the public policy organization, the Brookings Institution.
THOMAS MANN, Brookings Institution: The entire Congress needs to ask the question of whether we want to allow public officials to retain the power which they exercised with gusto in 1996 to seek aggressively, if not demand, unlimited campaign contributions from private citizens, corporations, and unions. The problem of money in politics in this country is endemic to our system. It rests with the reality of a market economy, a free speech guarantee, and the quest for political equality. We will never solve this problem, but we can manage it better than it's managed now.
KWAME HOLMAN: Norman Ornstein is resident scholar at the Washington think tank the American Enterprise Institute.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN, American Enterprise Institute: Whatever we do now chances are we're going to be back at this in five years or ten years. And what we know now is that as the communications world is changing so dramatically, the ability of people to communicate, the ways in which we communicate are going to change. Any regulatory mechanism we've put in place now we've got very smart people, consultants making huge sums of money out there, whose job is to find ways around the system. We can't be naive here. We can have a very beneficial and positive effect on the system without kidding ourselves that we're going to solve the problems once and for all.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senator Thompson will reconvene his hearings tomorrow, but even with the President's letter in hand, Sen. Daschle says he can't promise not to interrupt any more Senate hearings.