SHIELDS & GIGOT
September 19, 1997
Sen. Fred Thompson has said the Governmental Affairs Committee will switch from hearing testimony on campaign finance abuses to campaign finance reform, including the McCain-Feingold bill. The NewsHour's political pundits handicap the chances for reform legislation to pass this fall, the chances of Attorney General Janet Reno appointing an independent counsel to investigate the White House, and the chances that the American public will accept the recently-passed congressional pay raise.
JIM LEHRER: Now, our regular political analysis by Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
A RealAudio version of Kwame Holman's report on today's Senate Campaign Finance Hearing.
September 18, 1997:
Controversial DNC donor Roger Tamraz testifies in the Senate.
September 17, 1997:
The Senate hears testimony on pressure to allow controversial DNC donor Roger Tamraz to meet with the President over the objections of members of the National Security Council.
September 11, 1997:
The highest ranking Clinton administration official, National Security Advisor Samuel Berger, testifies on White House screening procedures for donors and guests.
September 9, 1997:
Former DNC Chair Don Fowler defends the actions of the Democrats during the last election.
July 24, 1997:
Former RNC Chair Haley Barbour testifies before the committee about the fund-raising done by the GOP in 1996.
March 18, 1997:
National Security chief Tony Lake cites the Roger Tamraz scandal as one of the issues that made him drop his nomination as CIA director.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the campaign finance investigation.
Browse the past Shields & Gigot segments.
First, Paul, the decision to wrap up the wrongdoing part and move on to reform. What happened?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I think theyíve run the string out. I think that Chairman Thompson has decided that they donít have a lot more that is really dramatic enough to warrant going on. The Democrats would like this to be over, of course, because itís been mostly about Democrats. And Fred Thompson, I think, wants it to end on a high note. He feels that this last week was fairly dramatic, brought in some of the worst practices that took place in 1996. And he feels heís raised enough questions so that the attorney general, Janet Reno, was under pressure to name an independent counsel. That would ultimately get to the bottom of this, of what happened. And I think heís now--I think he just wants to get it over with, more or less, to a couple of weeks with ethicists and others talking about reform, and move on.
A dramatic week of hearings.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, do you agree then that he then dumps this thing on the lap of his fellow Senators and say, okay, now, reform the system, is that what this is about?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I think Fred Thompsonís commitment to campaign finance reform is genuine, and itís been--it existed long before these hearings began, but I think Paulís right, that the events this week were quite dramatic. As I was listening to Kwameís piece, Jim, I was reminded of a great quote of Barry Goldwaterís, that said we face a crisis in liberty and we must convince the public that their elected officials are no longer--no longer the hired guns of rich givers, and thatís--in order to do that, we must control campaign expenditures. And I think if nothing came out this week with Roger Tamraz, the Lebanese-American who was an oilman and who said he would give $600,000 instead of the $400,000 he gave to buy access, you know, I think that tells you where our campaign finance system has come and what has to be done.
JIM LEHRER: So you think--you would agree with Paul that this was a most dramatic week and that a message got over, you mean, to the American public about something has to be done?
MARK SHIELDS: I think Trent Lott, the Senate Majority Leader, is a very shrewd, very able political tactician. He has not had a battlefield conversion to campaign finance reform, but he knows that thereís enough building simmering anger that to go to the floor or to prevent the McCain-Feingold ever being considered by just filibustering it, which was the original plan and still stated plan of Mitch McConnell that Senate arch foe, Republican arch foe of any campaign finance changes would be unacceptable, would be a political liability for the Republicans and the majority. And I think--I donít think thereís going to be an up or down vote on McCain-Feingold, but I think there will be--the Senate will consider campaign finance reform this year.
Does a political ground swell exist for campaign finance reform?
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Paul, that thereís going to be something happening on the floor of the Senate on campaign finance reform, whether anybody wants it or not?
PAUL GIGOT: Oh, I think there will be a debate on it. I donít think thereís any question. I donít think, though, that there is this great public demand for it coming out of these hearings. Theyíve shown some ugly practices, but I asked Trent Lott this week, bluntly, I said, what about this ground swell for campaign finance reform? He said, well, I think the ground swell is the same as it as for Bill Weld.
JIM LEHRER: Well, thereís a new poll--thereís a new poll that does show that the people are picking up on this, double digits, interests, used to be 2 percent, now itís 12 or something.
PAUL GIGOT: Yes. But there is still a sense out there in the public that neither side is really serious about it. And frankly, I think--
JIM LEHRER: Should this be read; that they are now serious, or how should you--
PAUL GIGOT: I donít really think so. Thereís a couple of problems the reformers have, Jim. One is their leader, the President of the United States. I mean, after the 1996 campaign he doesnít really have a lot of credibility, so the Republicans in Congress--and you look at the polls--they have more credibility right now than the President or the Democrats on this issue. The other thing is the bill, itself, McCain-Feingold that Mark talks about, has no chance of passing.
JIM LEHRER: Why? Why not?
PAUL GIGOT: Because it is--it is the equivalent on--for politics of what Ira Magazinerís health care plan was for health care, way too complicated, itís way too regulatory, and itís way too partisan. Just look at whoís supporting it--45 Senate Democrats support it. Thatís because it does almost nothing in regard to unions. Most Republicans think that it would be mainly aimed at them. Itís not a serious bill, and until they get together with a serious bill that some Republicans, other than one or two could support, it has no chance of going anywhere.
JIM LEHRER: No chance of going anywhere, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim. I donít think that McCain-Feingold will pass. I think it is a very serious bill. I think John McCain and Fred Thompson and Susan Collins are serious on this issue. Thereís no question that the central thrust of it is soft money, and thatís what these hearings have been about is soft money. Weíre talking about people giving four, five hundred, six hundred thousand dollars.
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. And McCain-Feingold, for those who donít follow this, would stop soft money?
MARK SHIELDS: Thatís right. Thatís exactly right.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
MARK SHIELDS: And what Trent Lott understands--give Trent Lott credit--Trent Lott understands the next question--weíve got to start facing the Gary Hart approach. Remember, after Gary Hart withdrew from the race after his monkey business, he started to get every catty question--have you been faithful to your wife--have you been faithful to your wife--weíre going to start getting questions about access. Did anybody ever give $30,000 to the party and then get access to you, Senator? Did anybody ever give $50,000 to the committee and then get access to you in soft money? And I think this is building. I think Paul is wrong on this. I think there is a skepticism in the country. People think the system is broken. They think itís corrupt and corrosive, and theyíre right. But they really question--I guess this is where Paulís doubts set in--they really doubt whether people are going to do anything about it. And I think thereís a building political imperative to do something about it, although heís absolutely right that the status quo is preferred by most incumbents. They won under it.
Reform will take concessions from both sides.
JIM LEHRER: So why change something that works?
MARK SHIELDS: Thatís right. Theyíve mastered the system. But itís a lousy, lousy system.
PAUL GIGOT: For campaign finance reform to really pass each side has to give something up that they think is an advantage. And if the Democrats want to limit soft money but thatís what Republicans think helps them counter union money, which, after all, mostly goes to Democrats and which can be raised through dues very easily, unlike anything else in the political system, where you have to voluntarily write a check, the union system, you can just take it right out of dues that are automatically taken off. Each side has to give something like that; otherwise, thereís nothing thatís going to happen. And right now neither side is going to do that.
JIM LEHRER: Well, look, speaking of something happening, the attorney general shook up her campaign finance investigating task force this week. What meaning does that have to you, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I think sheís trying to salvage her reputation for independence. Sheís trying to salvage the reputation of the career justice officials who she said could handle this. And maybe, if youíre a cynic, you could say that sheís trying to prevent having to name an independent counsel by shaking up an office that clearly wasnít doing the jobs.
The Justice Department shake-up: an attempt to restore credibility.
JIM LEHRER: Now, there are two issues on the independent counsel. One is just the general area on campaign financing.
PAUL GIGOT: Right.
JIM LEHRER: And more specifically on Vice President Gore. You think sheís still not going to do that?
PAUL GIGOT: I donít know if she is or not. I think itís going to be very hard for her not to, but at a minimum, she was not--is not going to do that. She had to do something about an office that had to be alerted by the Washington Post that money was being put into hard money that was being raised by the Vice President, was automatically put by the Democratic Party into purposes that it was not supposed to be put. I think, Jim, itís too little, too late. I think that the Republicans are so skeptical now on Capitol Hill sheís going to be--if she doesnít name an independent counsel, she is really in for a very rough ride.
JIM LEHRER: Too little, too late, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, the public impression of Janet Reno formed a long time ago, and nothing thatís going on now is going to change that. It formed on the day of Waco. The tragedy of Waco and Janet Reno stood forward, stood tall, and did something thatís rarely done in any administration. She took full responsibility for it. From that point forward she became the untouchable in this cabinet, much to the consternation, I think, of many people in the Clinton White House. But I think that she, quite frankly, was embarrassed by the revelations in the Washington Post that a reporter just digging it out with shoe leather work had found out about the soft money/hard money tradeoffs that the Democratic National Committee was doing, and that her career Justice Department investigating team had not even--even though they had the information in control, had not managed to uncover or analyze or scrutinize. So I really think that contributed as much as anything to her move this week.
The first congressional pay raise in five years.
JIM LEHRER: And quickly and finally the House slipped through a passing this week of a pay raise for themselves, 2.3 percent, $3100, they are now making $133, $600, apparently a lot of people are upset about that. Should they be?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think they should be upset at the way it was done. The Republicans--they probably deserve a pay raise actually--they had one in 1993--
JIM LEHRER: All five years.
PAUL GIGOT: But instead of having an up or down vote on it, as a lot of junior members, particularly the new Republicans who came in 1994 wanted, they stuck it as part of a spending bill. Nobody got to vote on it up or down, and it looks, Iím afraid that the Republicans are opening themselves up to the charge that itís just business as usual.
JIM LEHRER: Business as usual, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think thereís certainly a charge that theyíre open to it, Jim, but in the past, when these have been done, when Tip OíNeill was speaker, he went out front, said this is what Iím doing, weíre getting a pay raise, but this is what weíre going to give up, going to give up honorarium; weíre going to give up outside income, and weíre going to disclose our net holdings. There has to be some sort of a tradeoff with the public, what youíre doing. The next time they had a pay raise they limited all law practices. So I think that wasnít done and I think the charge is--theyíre vulnerable to the charge that, my goodness, arenít you just trying to do it in the middle of the night like those people you are trying to unseat.
JIM LEHRER: Are they going to pay a price, do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I donít think--I donít think there will be a big price paid because Newt Gingrich, to his credit, Dick Armey, Tom Delay, took the responsibility of leadership had did vote for it, which is what leaders are supposed to do. Theyíre supposed to take the heat.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Iím going to take some heat if I donít say good-bye. Good-bye.