THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE, SENATOR GEORGE MITCHELL, CONGRESSMAN THOMAS FOLEY, SENATOR DAVID BOREN, CONGRESSMAN SAM GEJDENSON ON FINANCE REFORM AND DISCUSSION WITH CLOSE UP STUDENTS
The South Grounds
9:40 A.M. EDT
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Good morning. You all are from Close Up, right? Well, it's a wonderful program, and you're here on the right day, because you're going to witness history being made at the White House just in a moment when the President makes his announcement.
Your participation in this Close Up program is an example of ways that the American people come to Washington to learn about this process. And our democracy belongs to the American people. But for too long, it has been under the control of special interests and lobbyists. And the announcement you're going to hear in just a minute from the President is about a breakthrough new measure to reclaim control of our government for the American people.
President Clinton made a commitment to the people of our country to restore control of our nation to the American people, and he is fulfilling that commitment today by announcing an important new campaign finance proposal and reform proposal that pushes the special interests and the lobbyists way out of the catbird's seat they occupy today.
The President has already taken bold steps to ensure that narrow interests do not predominate over the national interests. He demonstrated his commitment on the very first day in office by establishing strict new ethics rules, asking Cabinet secretaries to get rid of the kinds of perks and privileges which isolate the federal work force from the people that they're supposed to serve, by cutting the White House staff by 25 percent, and with other measures. But he knows, as the American people know, that much more is necessary, and legislation must be enacted to take the special interests and put them in their place.
So the President is announcing this measure today to restore democracy in our country, to restore control of this government to the American people.
There are some very interesting provisions -- and I want you all to listen very carefully, because some of the provisions in this legislation have not been talked about very much, because they're brand new; they're much tougher than anybody thought was possible. And it's due to the work of the President and his administration, and also these distinguished members of Congress -- the leadership of the Congress. And they will speak after the President.
But please join me in welcoming to the podium the President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. Vice President, distinguished leaders of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen from Close Up. I'm delighted to have the Close Up students sitting with us today at the White House. A little more than 30 years ago when I was about your age, I came here and the experience changed my life forever in terms of my dedication to try to do more to help our country work. Thirty years from now I hope that all of you will look back on this day and believe that you were witness to an event that helped to change the course of America.
For on this day, we seek to reform our political process, to restore the faith of the American people in our democracy, and to ensure that once again the voice of the people as a whole is heard over the voice of special interests in Washington. Today we're announcing the most comprehensive reform of the political system in the history of this country -- a proposal that limits spending by candidates for the House the Senate; a proposal which bans contributions to members by lobbyists who lobby them; a proposal which curbs the power and influence of political action committees; a proposal that levels the playing field between challengers and incumbents and pays for it by taxing lobbyists and not the American people; a proposal that plugs loopholes in the financing of presidential campaigns by eliminating so-called soft money contributions.
We take these extraordinary steps in the bill proposed today and commit ourselves to adopting it into law for one fundamental reason. Without fundamental change in the way we finance campaigns, everything else we seek to improve in the lives of our people, from creating to providing a secure system of health care, to educating our people better and enabling us to compete in a global economy -- everything will be harder to achieve. Economic reform, health care reform and political reform must go hand in hand. The system has to work to produce good results.
Today, by one estimate, Washington, D.C. has at least 80,000 working directly or indirectly to lobby the national government. A veritable influence industry. The more we seek to change things the more we draw lobbyists to Washington to see if they can stop the change. To be sure, these lobbyists often represent points of view that genuinely deserve to be heard. And we in government often benefit from their views. But there are times when these powerful interests turn debate into delay, and exert more influence over decisions in Washington than the people we were elected to serve do.
We're fighting hard to reform our health care system. Soon we'll put forward a plan to ensure health security for every American, and to control the exploding costs of health care. Already, some special interests have gone beyond consulting about what the best way to do this is, to preparing to carve the plans to bits to make sure that the present system stays intact, which is good for the people they represent, but bad for the public interest.
We're fighting to ensure that the tax burden falls more fairly on those who can afford to pay and less on the middle class, whose incomes went down and tax burdens went up over the last 12 years. And already, special interests are clogging the halls of power, whispering that they deserve to continue the advantages which have pertained for too long.
We're fighting to make it possible for every young person to go to college and to pay back your loans as a percentage of your income after you go to work, so that you can never be bankrupted later by heavy student debts today. And already, banks and their allies are out in force, since they profit inordinately from the current system, seeking to frustrate our plans.
It's quite clear, government will work for the middle class and for the average American only if Washington is free to work for the national interests and not narrow interests. And that won't happen unless we change the way we finance campaigns in this country. It's time to curb the role of special interests and to empower average citizens to have their voices heard once again.
Campaign finance reform is a tough issue to grapple with. It requires those of us who set the rules to change the rules that got us all here. That's not easy to do. Last year, Congress passed a good campaign finance reform bill only to see it vetoed in the past administration. As I promised, we would support campaign reform this year with a bill that is even tougher and better than the bill which passed the Congress and was vetoed last year.
Particularly we have taken aim at the lobbyists who symbolize the reason that nothing ever seems to get done here in this city. And that's why I'm pleased to stand here with these congressional leaders, some of whom have worked for years, and years, and years on this issue. And others, including the leadership of the House and Senate, who have made it possible to us to bring this bill forward in a way that has a real chance of passage.
We're moving forward with this -- this bill is for real. Even if special interests object, even if they try to filibuster or delay, eventually I believe we will pass campaign finance reform and I will sign it because the people will support it and demand it.
This plan will change the way Washington works, the way campaigns are financed, the way that politics is played. First the plan will impose strict but voluntary campaign limits on spending in congressional campaigns, as required by the United States Supreme Court. Spending has gone up too far and too fast. Last year alone spending on congressional campaigns shot up by 52 percent over the previous election. When campaign spending is out of control candidates without access to big money simply cannot compete.
Second, this plan will rein in the special interest by restricting the role of lobbyist and PACs, or political action committees. For the very first time, our plan will ban contributions from lobbyists to lawmakers they contact and lobby. It will even bar them from raising money for those officials they lobby. If enacted, this proposal will plainly change the culture in Washington in a very fundamental way.
This proposal curbs the role of political action committees. It caps the amount of money any candidate can receive This proposal curbs the role of political action committees. It caps the amount of money any candidate can receive from PACs. It limits PAC contributions to $1,000 to presidential campaigns, to $2500 for Senate candidates. And while it leaves the present limit on the House candidates, it limits the percentage of any candidate's budget which can come from political action committees, a dramatic change in the present system.
Third, our political reform plan will open the airwaves and level the playing field between incumbents and challengers by providing communications vouchers to candidates who agree to the spending limits. This was an important part of my campaign last year. I think we have got to open the airwaves so that there can be honest debate and all the people who run, including challengers, have access to them.
These vouchers can only be used to communicate with the voters through broadcast, print or postage. Let me make clear: these vouchers, no matter what you will hear from the people who want to protect the present special interest system, these vouchers will not be paid for by middle-class taxpayers. They will be funded by closing a major tax loophole that allows many businesses to deduct the cost of lobbying and the costs they pay for their lobbyists through repeal of the deductibility of lobbying expenses. Corporate lobbying, believe it or not, has only been deductible since 1962. It's time to close a 30-year-old loophole and instead use the money to give the political process back to the American people.
And there will be the voluntary tax check-off, which will let citizens choose to have $5 of their income tax go to make this system work. It is entirely voluntary, but I think a lot of Americans will like this system better than the one we have.
Our reform plan won't just affect congressional campaigns. During the presidential campaign, I promised to propose legislation that would shut down the system of soft money that increases spending so dramatically in national campaigns. Today, this legislation does exactly that. Make no mistake, this legislation will cost me and the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, significant sums of money. But it is the right thing to do.
We envision a new Democratic Party and a new party system, built on the energy of millions of average citizens who believe that politics is once again a thrilling collective endeavor; who want to give the small amounts of money they can afford to give to the political process and to the party of their choice because they will know that that money will count and will not be overwhelmed by special interests.
This proposal can change the status quo. And the special interests surely will mobilize against it. They don't want to see their ability to give campaign contributions curbed. The status quo suits many of them fine. The problem is that even when a lot of these people are making their voices heard in legitimate ways, the totality of their efforts has served to paralyze this process, to paralyze this city, and to keep meaningful change from occurring long after everybody acknowledges that it has to occur in fundamental areas of our national life, such as economic policy and health care.
I believe the winds of change are too strong. At the beginning of my term I imposed the strictest ethics restriction ever on my top officials. They'll be prohibited from lobbying their agencies for five years after they leave, and they can never lobby for a foreign government. We've already seen progress in the United States Congress. Earlier this week, the United States Senate passed a historic lobby disclosure bill -- a bill which opens the activities of lobbyists to the sunshine of public scrutiny. If this bill passes the entire Congress now, every time a lobbyist spends more than a small amount of money to lobby a bill on any member, it will all have to be reported. And this is the kind of thing that we ought to be doing.
I worked for this sort of reform for a decade in my own state. I know how hard it is. Finally I had to take my proposals to a vote of the people to pass them. In the presidential campaign, from the snows of New Hampshire onward, I talked about these kinds of changes. Now we see from the vote in the Senate yesterday and from the strong support we're receiving on the campaign finance reform bill today, the prospect of real political reform in Washington. I hope the House will act quickly on the measure that the Senate passed yesterday on lobby registration and disclosure.
I believe the season of political reform has finally arrived. Today, we are here united in our commitment to enact these kinds of reforms. We need your help, your parents' help, the help of the people that you go to school with, the help of the people that you represent all across this country to overcome the resistance that inevitably accompanies this kind of change. But when we do overcome the forces of inertia, we can once again make our political system work -- work more quickly, work more efficiently, work less expensively, and most importantly, work for the people who work hard and play by the rules.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We will now have four statements, beginning with the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, Senator George Mitchell. (Applause.)
SENATOR MITCHELL: American political campaigns are too long and too expensive. Money plays too large a role. This legislation will change that. It represents a truly historic turning point in a long struggle to reform the federal election campaign laws. Thanks to the strong leadership of President Clinton, we finally have a plan supported by both the Executive and the Legislative Branches of government to clean up the election finance system.
This is the most comprehensive reform of our campaign finance laws in our nation's history. And I believe we have the best chance ever to enact it into law. This is what the American people want. This is what they demand of their government. This legislation will distance special interests from the political process; reduce the role of money so that government better serves the national interest as opposed to the special interest; make federal elections more competitive by capping campaign spending and by giving challengers the resources to better communicate with the electorate. This legislation has the broad support of the American people and of public interest groups committed to reforming the election finance system.
There are cynics who will oppose it , who question our motivation. They cannot believe that incumbents would propose legislation to make election contests more fair. What the cynics ignore is the effect the current campaign finance system has on our system of government. The American people no longer have confidence in the political process. They believe powerful special interests control the political system and prevent the government from serving the people. We must and we can change that.
Last year, tough campaign finance reform legislation was approved by Congress. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by President Bush. This year, we have a President who is committed to reform and who will work with Congress to achieve it. As a result of President Clinton's leadership, the legislation we propose this year is even tougher than last year's bill. I commend President Clinton for his commitment to campaign finance reform. I pledge to work with my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, to enact this important reform into law. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Speaker Tom Foley. (Applause.)
SPEAKER FOLEY: Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, members of the Congress, I join with my distinguished colleague, George Mitchell of Maine, in heralding this legislation. And in saluting President Clinton and the Clinton/Gore administration for having announced today their support for it. Of all the changes that the President will bring to this country during his term of office -- during his terms of office -- this one may be among the most important and the most long lasting in its effect.
Politics is about decision, it is about choice, it is about deciding between candidates and issues, about goals and aspirations, about means. And it's important that the American people have confidence in the way that campaigns are financed, in the way that campaigns are conducted. Money has become too important in campaigns.
Its amount has gotten totally out of control in many areas. This brings -- this legislation brings the power of money under control -- and under circumstance of fairness between Democrats and Republican, between incumbent and challengers, between rich candidates and candidates of average means.
It will see enactment this year. I believe that the House of Representatives will enact with the Senate this far-reaching legislation in this session of Congress. And it will be presented to the President with pride and confidence that he will sign the bill, bring it into law, and open a new era of clean, effective, and confident politics for our people.
This is a bright day in Washington. The sun is shining here. This is a bright day in American politics as well. (Applause.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: A longtime leader of reform efforts in this field of campaign financing in the United States Senate, the senior Senator from Oklahoma, David Boren. (Applause.)
SENATOR BOREN: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Mr. President, this is indeed a happy day for me. As one who's worked for campaign finance reform with many of my colleagues who are here today with the President, this is a very, very happy day, because the President of the United States has now presented to the Congress and put before the American people the strongest reform bill to clean up the way we finance campaigns in this country ever presented to the Congress. This is real reform. This is a bill with teeth in it. It will truly change the course of American politics when it's passed by the Congress and signed into law by the President.
And I commend the President for his leadership. It takes courage to make this kind of proposal to the Congress. It takes courage to provide this kind of leadership. What is happening today demonstrates that we've heard the voice of the American people. And very often the people are ahead of politicians in Washington.
And the people have been saying to us, we're fed up -- we're fed up with the money chase in American politics, we're fed up with the fact that more and more and more money is being poured into campaigns. We're fed up with the fact that elections are being decided not on the basis of a candidate's qualifications, not on the basis of which candidate has the best ideas for the future of our country, but on the basis of which candidate can raise the most money -- $4 million in the last election on the average, to win a United States Senate seat that's in a small state. That means anybody wanting to run for the Senate has to figure out how to raise $20,000 every week for six years.
The American people have said, we want the government to belong to us. We want to have elections based upon who has the best ideas for the future of this country. We want the money chase stopped. And this bill puts the limit on runaway campaign spending.
The American people have said, we want Congress to represent people like us. We don't want the special interests to have control of the Congress. And they know the facts. The American people know that in the last election, over half the members elected to Congress received more than half their money not from the people back home, but from the political action committees and the special interests. This bill will stop this.
The American people know about soft money -- that's huge amounts of money poured sometimes $100,000 at a time by wealthy groups and individuals into campaigns without any spending limits. It's called soft money. This bill will totally eliminate the giving of soft money in political campaigns.
And so this proposal today by the President indicates the heat and those of us who join with him -- that all of us have heard the voice of the American people. And let there be no mistake, the American people understand this debate. The American people are watching this debate. They're going to hold accountable those members of Congress who refuse to support the President's program and refuse to limit campaign spending and return government back to the people.
They're not going to be misled by smoke screens and excuses. Some of those who don't want to limit runaway spending, who want to continue to have Congress be part-time members of Congress and full-time fundraisers, who don't want that special interest influence cut off, they're going to make excuses for not supporting this bill. Some of them have it's public funding of campaigns.
We've heard the proposal today. We're not asking the American people, the general taxpayers, to support this cleanup of government with tax dollars. We're saying voluntary contributions and the lobbyists and those that pay the massive amounts of money spent on lobbying here in the Congress, they should help clean up campaigns, they should help us bring a cleaner system of government that's really responsive to the people.
The American people will not be fooled. They're watching this debate, and I am convinced that with their support and their help, the President's program will pass, be signed into law. I'm very, very proud to be here to hear the President of the United States announce this proposal today. (Applause.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: A longtime leader of these efforts in the House of Representatives, the Congressman from Connecticut, Sam Gejdenson. (Applause.)
CONGRESSMAN GEJDENSON: Thank you very much. What a difference having a President makes. Three years ago when Speaker Foley asked me to lead this effort in the House, the challenge from the White House was to try to figure out how we could get a bill that could override a presidential veto. That was really an insurmountable task, as we all learned.
This year, with the Speaker, the Majority Leader, and Charlie Rose's help, we fashioned a bill with the White House that the President has pledged to sign. We wouldn't be here without the commitment of this administration and the leadership of the House and Senate. And it's been a privilege for me and the staff. And I'd like to thank the staff -- Perry Pockros on my staff and Eric Kleinfeld and from Charlie Rose's staff -- for all the hours they put in working with the White House staff to come up with a bill that will limit spending, it will limit PACs, it will put the focus on campaigns, on the debate of the issues before the American people; and put people back into the political process, as it was when then law school student Clinton was at Yale and I was at Yukon and Eastern Connecticut working on the Duffey campaign a few years ago. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Before inviting your questions, I want to acknowledge two individuals who have modestly declined the opportunity to make statements here, but who represent -- probably the two key individuals in the Senate and House, respectively -- on this matter. First of all, the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, who is also the number two person in the Senate leadership, the senior Senator from Kentucky, Wendell Ford. (Applause.)
And the Chairman of the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction in the House of Representatives, a longtime advocate of progressive change, the Congressman from North Carolina, Charlie Rose. (Applause.)
And now if you have questions or comments, the floor is yours.
THE PRESIDENT: We'll take some from the students. But I'll take a couple from the press and a couple from the students.
THE PRESIDENT: I think I was -- as you know, I favor a smaller PAC limit and I wanted -- I went to a -- in our legislation we go to $1,000 in presidential campaigns, which is more broadly dispersed. I think there were two reasons. One is the House members believe they have less access to raise funds on a state-wide basis, particularly those who come from very poor congressional districts, and obviously, very limited ability to raise money beyond their states. So they were insistent on keeping the limit higher.
But they did do something that I never proposed when I ran for president that I think provides an equally important limitation on the influence of PACs and that is to set a very strict limit on the percentage of total campaign contributions which could come from PACs. One which is, as Senator Boren has already noted, is lower than the average that members of Congress received last time in running for reelection. So they have agreed to dramatically reduce the impact of PAC money on their campaign treasuries over and above what they have been getting. And I thought that was a reasonable agreement.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And the lobby contribution --
THE PRESIDENT: And of course, they also -- the leadership and the sponsors of the bill have also agreed to a dramatic change -- I want to emphasize this; this is new from the last bill -- to say that lobbyist cannot give or raise money for -- give money to or raise money for members of Congress whom they have lobbied within the previous year. And if they do that then they cannot lobby them for a year after this. That is a very significant change. Did you -- I got the facts the right.
Q Mr. President, you have no Republicans here. I know you have been trying to get some bipartisan support. Do you think now this is fated to be filibustered and won't --
THE PRESIDENT: Why don't I ask maybe one of the senators to discuss that. Senator Boren and I have already talked about it. Senator Mitchell.
SENATOR MITCHELL: We've reached out to Republican senators -- Senator Boren and Senator Ford have met individually with a large number of Republican senators. And as you know, yesterday a group of five of them sent me a letter detailing concerns they have and principles they hold with respect to campaign finance reform. And we're going to continue our dialogue with them. Having received the letter, it's my hope that we can, shortly, meet with them, talk with them and work together to try to achieve a bipartisan bill.
Q Well, is the issue of public financing negotiable?
SENATOR MITCHELL: Well, we think that the bill the President has presented is the right way to go. Obviously, we're going to listen to, consider thoughtfully and seriously suggestions made by anyone, especially and including the Republican senators who send the letter and others. We hope very much that we can reach a bipartisan agreement.
We passed this bill last year with Republican senators' votes. We hope we can do so again this year.
THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to make two points, if I may. First of all, the House members reminded me in response to the previous question that this bill also does something that we don't do now; this limits the contributions from individuals that House members can get above $200 to one-third of the total, which is a pretty dramatic change.
Secondly, I think we ought to hone in on the question you just asked, Andrea, in terms of the expressed reservations. And I had talked with Senator Boren and Senator Ford, as well as Senator Mitchell, before we came out here. The people who will oppose this bill and will say, well, this is public financing, and we're against public financing and we have so many other needs, how can we spend tax dollars on it -- I want to make two points. First of all, this bill will be financed entirely by repealing the lobbyist tax deduction and voluntary contributions from the American people. No taxpayer who's paying anything now will pay any more to finance this bill. No expenditure now going to the education and welfare or national defense of this country will be diverted to pay for this bill -- not one red cent.
The second point I want to make is this: If you wish to limit the expenditures on congressional races, as we limit the expenditures in presidential campaigns, it can constitutionally only be done if it is tied to the receipt of public financing, because the Supreme Court has ruled that a millionaire or a billionaire can spend as much money as they want, and that anybody can spend as much money as they can raise on any campaign, unless there is some benefit tied to it. Correct? So there is no way -- we will never limit spending in national races unless we can tie it to a broad-based stream of financing accountable to all the people.
So I just -- that's why some Republicans voted for this bill two years ago. They understood this -- or last year. And I hope they will again.
Q You're stressing no public support here, but on the presidential checkoff and presumably the congressional checkoff and also the loss of a deduction of lobbyists, wouldn't that revenue be useful for things such as jobs programs and other areas that you favor? How is it not public support? Could you go into that a little more deeply?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, that's only if the individual taxpayers want it to be diverted to that. If they make a decision to do that in the context of a very large budget, it would be a tiny amount that they can divert. But their lawmakers will not divert it; the taxpayers can do it. The taxpayers won't pay extra. They can say, well, we'll spend up to $5 of our money on this. But that is their decision. That's not our decision. And I don't think any of us -- I like that. I wish we could give people more control over their lives not less. So I think that's an advance.
Q Mr. President, on a different subject, now with the Christopher mission over, can you tell us what you and the Europeans have accomplished? The impression is that despite all of his diplomatic skills, that nothing on the ground in Yugoslavia or Bosnia is going to change, at least for the foreseeable future.
THE PRESIDENT: I'll be happy to answer that, but if I might, can I just answer -- and I'll come back to you before I leave, but could we -- if there are any other questions on this subject from the press on the campaign finance reform. Yes.
Q Mr. President, how do you intend to convince the public to spend tax dollars on federal election campaigns? Because, back to Frank's question, they haven't been checking off that dollar. One of the reasons it has to be raised to $5 is because the fund is running out of money.
THE PRESIDENT: Why don't you answer this?
CONGRESSMAN GEJDENSON: Well, the key difference here -- not to go back to my one line, which is, what a difference a President makes. We've had two Reagan terms and one Bush term where they both took the money and then said it's a bad system -- don't check off. So it's not a surprise that the American people were left somewhat confused. We now have a President who is honest with the American people and says, yes, the money that the presidential campaigns take in public financing is a positive impact on presidential campaigns, and it would positive on congressional and senator races as well.
I think that's a fundamental difference. When the Chief Executive in the White House is taking the money but telling the people it's bad, it obviously sends a message to the voters. And when they fill out their taxes, they don't check it off. We now have a President who is being honest with the American people and is willing to say, check that off.
Q But if there's so much confidence in that system why raise it to $5?
SENATOR MITCHELL: The check-off has not kept pace with inflation, and this is, of course, an effort to adjust it accordingly as it commonplace in many government programs, private sector salaries, and other areas as well.
I'd like to make one other point that ought to be stressed. This establishes an entirely voluntary system. If a senator or a House member or a candidate for the Senate of House don't like it, they don't have to participate. All we're asking our colleagues is to let us put into place a system in which candidates who seek federal office can choose voluntarily whether or not to participate. It is an entirely voluntary system. No candidate is compelled to participate. No candidate need participate if he or she chooses not to do so. Anyone who opposes this legislation ought to help it become law and then not participate if they don't want. It's a voluntary system funded not by tax payers dollars, but by eliminating the deduction for lobbyists. That should be understood. Completely voluntary, no tax payers dollars.
SENATOR BOREN: I think there are several things that have changed also. You mentioned the check-off -- this is comprehensive reform. One of the things that's really bothered the American people -- we've had the check-off before and then they read $60 million, $70 million of soft money went into campaigns, including presidential campaigns. This shuts off the soft money completely. It's a comprehensive reform. The people will know that through this system there really substituting a new system for special interest influence in the past.
The other thing is this -- the American people are smart enough to know they're paying a huge bill right now. They know that when $680 million pours into campaigns -- and that's how much poured into campaigns last time -- when they know that almost $200 million of that came from the PACs, when they know that the lobbyists are helping to raise that $680 million, they know they're footing the bill. They know there are all these special interest provisions. They know people are getting tax breaks that the average American doesn't get because of all the money poured into campaign.
You talk about costing the American people. Lobbyist control and special interest control of this government really costs the American people. And you ask the American people, would you rather have the lobbyists help pay to clean it up and put some limits on this runaway spending and all this money pouring in? The American people are going to say, yes, and the American people are going to watch us until we pass it into law. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think if we could pass the plate now, we could finance the first year's worth of the bill. (Laughter.)
Mr. Vice President.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Yes, I wanted to say a word about that, because if you will notice, after Senator Boren made his statement, everybody was silent except these kids from the Close Up program. I want to invite you to go back and look at the videotape of the President's Inaugural speech and look at the moment when the President talked about this commitment in his speech. There was a slight pause and tepid applause up on the podium up there. And then after about a three-second delay, from way down the Mall came this roar of approval from the people who were gathered out there on the Mall.
You have recently seen what happens when toughening measures on campaign finance reform are put up for a vote. And people who follow inside baseball in analyzing this issue are often misled, because the depth of feeling on the part of the American people in support of what President Clinton is proposing will carry this legislation and perhaps even strengthen it as it moves toward final passage.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: One of the reasons that I think people will participate, by the way, is exemplified by the enormous way that lobby registration and disclosure bill carried through the Senate yesterday. I think that when it finally got on the floor it was 95 to 2. The only argument against this will be, well, there's public money involved. But people are smart enough to know that we're paying for it by repealing the lobbyist deduction. They know that -- the public knows that they're not going to get the money in their back pocket and they're not going to get the money spent on their favorite program. We're either going to repeal the lobbyist deduction and do this and open up this system, or we're not. And I think we ought to.
Let me also say that I think one reason more people will participate is, they can see some tangible evidence of political reform which is worth their money. I remind you, we had a big outpouring of voters in the last election. I don't take full credit for it, they voted for all three candidates. But there was a big increase in voter participation, a huge increase in voter participation among young people. This White House has already received more letters in 1993 than came into the White House in the entire year of 1992. People are interested now. They're concerned. They want their country back. They want their government back. And I think they will seize this opportunity if we give it to them.
Now, we had a couple of young people who had questions there on this. Go ahead.
Q I was wondering, because incumbents don't have to spend as much money as our challengers, how are you going to make that equal for everyone?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the truth -- you can't give the challengers more than the incumbents, but -- I have two responses. One, it's a practical matter. What often happens is the incumbents hugely outspend the challengers unless the challengers are very wellknown or independently wealthy -- four to one is the average. So this will even it up. That's a long way from four to one.
The second thing is that all of us who have run in elections know that there is a core, a threshold amount of money you have to have to make sure your voice is heard. After that, if somebody's got a little more, it's not as important. But this will even up the spending, number one; and number two, it will bring everybody to that threshold where they can be known by the voters and their message can be heard.
Q My question is this: Do you feel that PACs like Emily's List that aren't funded by big business and big corporations should be exempt from your proposal?
THE PRESIDENT: That's a hot issue up here. (Laughter.) The answer is, I don't from the bundling proposal, that is -- the question is whether Emily's List or any other list not tied to a specific interest group, like labor or manufacturers or whatever, but instead tied to a set of ideas should be able to go and gather up contributions from people all over America and then send them to the candidates of their choice who may or may not be known to the people who gave the money to Emily's List. I can only tell you this bill does not explicitly address that.
My own view is -- and I really appreciate the work that Emily's List has done -- is that you can't just make an exemption for Emily's List. Anybody who says we stand for certain ideas and certain values whether you like them or not could do the same thing. So I think there's a way that can be compromised. I think, you know, you might have Emily's List, for example, or any other similar PAC be able to send specific envelopes to their contributors and have the contributors send them directly. But my own personal view is that the law should be the same for everyone.
Q My question is, with the bill that was passed through the Senate, and if it is passed through the House, would that hurt or will it help your bill if it is passed through legislation?
THE PRESIDENT: It will help. The bill -- let me tell you what the difference is. The bill that the Senate passed yesterday requires much more extensive registration by people requires much more extensive registration by people who lobby the Congress, so that the press will be able to find and tell you who is lobbying on what issues -- who they are and where they live and what they do. It, furthermore, now requires the Senate and the House members who receive any kind of benefit like a trip, a hunting trip or something like that, that is over a certain amount of money, that that has to be disclosed. I think it's over $20, isn't it? Over $20. There has to be a record made of that. That will almost certainly discourage a number of those things. And if they occur, then you'll know what kind of lobbying is really going on. A lot of money is spent on that every year. So getting that into the light of day is a big deal.
If that were to pass the House, that would not -- I think it would help to pass this, because that bill only deals with the activities of lobbyists. It doesn't deal with the activities of lobbyists and spending limits and political action committees in campaign financing. So I see these two things as going hand-in-hand.
When I ran for President, I said I wanted to have lobby reform and campaign finance reform and motor voter registration, and a lot of those things which will all fit together to open the system to the people. So I think it will help -- if the Senate bill passes the House, I think it will help campaign finance reform.
That's a very intelligent question, by the way.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: They're recommending that you just take one more because of the group from the --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: They say I can -- go ahead. I have a crowd waiting for me. I'm sorry. And then I've got to answer your question.
Q If the bill doesn't pass, what aspects of it would you be willing to change, if any?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I wouldn't -- I don't want to say that, because if I do that, then the people who don't want it will try to go to the lowest common denominator.
Senator Boren, I think, made the comment -- or Senator Mitchell, one of them -- talked about the letter that was received from the five Republican senators. So we will see what they have to say as we go along. But let's see -- first of all, let's see if it can pass the House; let's see what the -- how the Democrats feel about it and whether there are some Republicans who favor it. And if we can pass it, then we'll go forward.
I think the key thing, frankly, is whether you could say we shouldn't spend taxpayers' money on this when there are so many other needs. If that can really be presented, then the opponents will have won an enormous victory. They will just keep the system just the way it is. When the truth is that we're going to pay for it with voluntary contributions and repealing the lobbyist deduction that they've enjoyed for 31 years. I think if people see this as a way of controlling spending, limiting lobbyists and limiting PACs, then they will -- the support for it will be overwhelming. And that's why we've been so careful in the way it's been drawn up.
Now, to your question. First, when Secretary Christopher gets back, I expect to see him. I also expect to see Senators Nunn and Lugar at a minimum from the representatives of -- the three Republican and three Democratic senators who have been in the area. Secretary Christopher and I will meet with the other members of our national security group, and we will see where we go from there.
But I've been keeping up with this trip as well as with events, and been making some calls overseas myself. I expect we will be able to reach a consensus fairly shortly on which approach to take. And as soon as we do, we will announce it and go forward.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END10:25 A.M. EDT