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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 17, 1997
                     REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT,

The Cross Halls of the Residence

9:00 A.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Good morning and Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone. Thank you for joining us to mark an important milestone on our nation's drive toward campaign finance reform.

I'd like to begin by acknowledging so many of the leaders for reform who have gathered here today. Of course, in just a moment I'm going to be asking Vice President Mondale and Senator Kassebaum-Baker to make their statements. I want to acknowledge the presence of Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, Congressman Steve Horn of California, former Senator Gaylord Nelson. And I may have missed some members of Congress -- I hope not, it's not intentional. And there are leaders of groups that have fought tirelessly for campaign finance reform, and I want to acknowledge all of you as a group with an expression of thanks for all that you do.

There's a broad cross-section of the civic, religious, and business leaders who have joined this fight and helped to lead it to make the American political process worthy of the American people. Today, we push our crusade still further. We are enlisting two of America's leading public citizens, one a Republican and one a Democrat, as spokespeople for the cause of renewing our democracy.

As you know, President Clinton very much wanted to be here, but his surgery on Friday has prevented it. Even though he is having a little trouble walking today, he is committed to taking all the strides we need to reform our campaign finance system. And in fact, just as soon as we finish these remarks, Vice President Mondale and Senator Kassebaum-Baker and I will meet with the President upstairs, in his residence to discuss this project. I think it's fitting that his first official business after his surgery is going to be campaign finance reform.

We're at a critical moment in the drive toward reform. We have unprecedented public focus. I can bear personal testimony to that. (Laughter.) And we ought to see that as an asset to focus on the need for reform. Our second asset is that we have in Congress a genuinely bipartisan bill. And now today we add a third ingredient. With the help of the two distinguished citizens standing with me here, we can help mount the kind of public education drive that, throughout our nation's history, has always preceded reform.

Americans are beginning to understand why reform is so desperately needed. With every election cycle now, money piles higher and corrodes our politics further. The campaign laws we operate under today were passed more than two full decades ago, and they've now been overwhelmed by the flood of money that has washed into our election campaigns. This money, raised in ever greater sums by both political parties, has awarded special interest too prominent

a place in our political system, too powerful a voice in America's democratic dialogue.

It is clear to all citizens, regardless of party or philosophy, that something must be done and now is the time. The bipartisan legislation now before the Congress, introduced in the Senate by John McCain and Russ Feingold, and in the House by Chris Shays and Marty Meehan, is the best chance in years to change this system. It will curb the role of money in elections, reduce the role of special interests, level the playing field between incumbents and challengers by offering free TV time to candidates who limit their spending, and it will end the so-called soft money system. It is the right solution at the right time.

We know that if we don't act quickly, and if we don't act in a truly bipartisan fashion, reform will fail this year, just as it has failed year in and year out. We can't let that happen. The organized interests in Washington are mobilizing to block reform. Many of them find that the status quo works to their advantage, even as it cheapens our democracy.

So the key to passing reform is to reach out beyond Washington to engage the broad American public. We need to tap the view, widely held and deeply felt, if too often unexpressed, that this system must change.

To help educate the public, rally public opinion, and expand the circle of reform, President Clinton has asked two of America's most distinguished public citizens to serve as his emissaries to this effort. He has asked former Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, a Republican, and former Vice President, Senator, and Ambassador, Walter Mondale, a Democrat, to serve as co-chairs of a campaign reform education and awareness project. These two American heroes will work with us and with supporters of this legislation to spread the word and speak for reform wherever they can. We will, with their help, make this the year that we pass campaign finance reform.

No two individuals better exemplify the best in American public life than Nancy Kassebaum-Baker and Fritz Mondale. In the 18 years that Senator Kassebaum-Baker represented the people of Kansas in the Senate, her common sense and independence were respected throughout her party and through the Senate. I had the privilege and honor of serving with Senator Kassebaum-Baker and, like all of her colleagues, looked up to her. She served as chair of the Labor and Human Resources Committee and authored many laws to benefit American families, including the bipartisan health reform legislation that bears her name and capped her career.

Vice President Walter Mondale is one of our nation's leading public figures. Serving as Attorney General of his state, U.S. Senator, Vice President, and a standard bearer for the Democratic Party; also as our ambassador to Japan at a pivotal time in America's effort to open trade for America's goods and services. For four decades, he has been a prominent fighter for the interests of ordinary Americans.

In recent months, both of these distinguished Americans returned to private life. We are very pleased and grateful that, as private citizens, they are willing to take on a leadership role in the bipartisan citizen movement America needs to force change in the way we finance elections.

In his State of the Union address, the President challenged the Congress to pass bipartisan campaign finance reform by July 4th, the day we celebrate the birth of our independence, the birth of our democracy. Let us make the next four months a time of education and action to redeem the promise of self-government.

I'm going to ask Senator Kassebaum-Baker to speak first, and then Vice President Mondale.

Senator Kassebaum-Baker. (Applause.)

SENATOR KASSEBAUM-BAKER: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. It's a pleasure to be here particularly this morning with so many who have been interested, shall I say, if not working in the trenches for a long time to achieve campaign finance reform.

I am pleased to join in a public education effort for something that I have long believed must be addressed by the Congress and by the President, thoughtful, comprehensive reform of our campaign finance laws. In the last Congress, I was a cosponsor of the McCain-Feingold legislation; it is a vehicle that many of us supported. I've supported other attempts as well.

It isn't going to be easy to accomplish. Our goal, Ambassador Mondale and I fully agree, is to advance bipartisan legislation to create a level playing field for candidates seeking federal offices, and to reduce the power and influence of money in the political process.

A great deal of attention is being focused on campaign contributions in the past election, and in my view, that's fine. With where legitimate questions exist, they should be investigated and resolved. The public education effort for campaign finance reform that Ambassador Mondale and I were asked to lead should not be viewed as a diversion to the story of excessive money in the 1996 election. However, we must move forward on legislation to make constructive, vitally needed changes in the existing system.

I believe we have a sound starting point in the bipartisan legislation that has been offered by Senators McCain and Feingold, and Representatives Shays and Meehan. The bill is not perfect, but it offers positive, serious reforms. It is important, I believe, to have full and timely disclosure of all contributions and spending -- and full and timely is an important part of that statement. Among other provisions, the bill would eliminate soft money bundling and the influence of special interest groups is reduced.

As the Vice President pointed out, it has been 25 years since any significant reform of campaign finance laws passed the Congress. The current system has become riddled with loopholes and legal mumbo-jumbo of so-called soft money bundling and supposedly independent expenditures that average Americans rightly consider outrageous. It is not good enough to wring our hands and denounce the status quo. We must take concrete steps this year to bring about change.

Does the public care? Is it going to be possible to accomplish this? I believe so. I think it is a window of opportunity and it isn't going to happen, however, unless the public -- and that includes all of us, both here and around the country -- believe that it's important to try. I think it is, and that's why I'm happy to join this effort and work with Ambassador Mondale, who lends a great deal of prestige to the desire to do so. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR MONDALE: I am glad to accept the President's request to be a part of this important effort to rid our nation's politics of the curse of the present campaign finance system. Nancy Kassebaum-Baker's cochairmanship of this effort underscores the nation's deep bipartisan concern, and I am very honored to serve with her.

As some of you may know, I have been around politics for a long, long time. And I've watched this problem with money get worse and worse. And today we're back again with a new crisis that calls us to action. Senators McCain and Feingold have stepped forward across party lines to offer a bipartisan proposal and this is where we must focus our efforts.

It is estimated that $2 billion were spent in the 1996 federal campaigns. This is far more than is remotely necessary to fully inform the public. It is rare to meet anyone in public office who doesn't hate what's going on. The cost to our democracy is found in many areas. First, candidates and office holders spend far too much time just raising money. As Bob Byrd put it a few years ago, we have become full-time fundraisers and part-time office holders.

Secondly, far too many good people declined to seek an office or declined to continue to hold an office because of the burden of big money on American politics. The public hates, also, the relentless and negative nature of campaigns. And I believe, most importantly of all, the spectacle of rivers of money flowing into campaigns is an assault on public trust.

Lincoln once said that with public trust everything is possible; without it, nothing is possible. We have no more important cause than the restoration of public confidence in the integrity and responsiveness of their public officers.

This is the best chance we've had in years to get the job done. I was involved in 1974 when the last reforms took place. Our plea for basic reform is not intended to silence the debate over what has been occurring in recent campaigns. But as we've all been taught, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Today, this year, we have an opportunity to light that candle.

Thank you. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.

END 9:16 A.M. EST