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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 13, 1997
                      REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT 

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. America has had a summer of significant achievement, as we are working to protect our values and prepare our people for the 21st century. The balanced budget shows what we can do when we put aside partisanship and work for the public interest and our children's future. But America can't rest. One of the most important things we can do in the next phase of our progress is to pass long-overdue campaign finance reform.

Since I became President, I've worked hard to reform the political system to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. I've acted within my executive authority to limit the ability of important executive branch appointees to work for foreign governments when they leave office. I've worked with Congress to reduce the size of government to its lowest level since President Kennedy was here and to pass sweeping lobby reform, limiting gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers. We've also gotten the line item veto so the President can cancel wasteful spending, but we haven't succeeded in reforming the campaign finance laws, though we've been trying for nearly five years.

The campaign finance system we have now, which is over 20 years old, has simply been been overwhelmed by the rising cost of campaigns -- largely advertising and other communication costs -- and the flood of campaign cash required to meet those costs. The amount of money raised by both political parties now doubles every four years. And the candidates themselves are caught up in a fundraising arms race, spending more and more time raising more and more money -- which is bound to raise more questions in the public's mind. The campaign system is broken. And every one of us must take responsibility for fixing it.

I'm doing what I can within the executive branch. I've asked our Federal Communications Commission to require media outlets to provide candidates with free airtime, especially TV airtime, which will reduce the need for more campaign money. I've also asked the Federal Election Commission to ban the large "soft money" contributions to political parties from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals. And the Justice Department has indicated it will go to court, when appropriate, to defend the constitutionality of limited campaign spending.

But there is no substitute for strong, bipartisan campaign finance reform legislation passed by the Congress. I proposed such reform when I ran for President, and I have backed reform legislation every year since then. And in every single year, reform has been blocked in the Congress by a filibuster in the United States Senate, a procedure by which only 41 of the 100 senators can stop a bill from coming to a vote. Now the special interests and their allies in Congress are poised to strike again, waiting to quietly smother reform with another filibuster.

But this year they won't get away with it -- at least quietly -- because Senators John McCain, a Republican, and Russ Feingold, a Democrat, have pledged to bring their reform legislation to a vote in the Senate this month, and all America will be watching.

On Thursday all 45 Democratic Senators -- every single Democrat in the Senate -- wrote to the Senate leadership in support. I'm very proud of them. I'm also proud that citizens groups, spurred by business executives and civic leaders, have gathered one million signatures on a petition to Congress advocating campaign finance reform. I'm grateful to Presidents Ford and Carter and Bush -- all of whom have called for reform. They are being joined by dozens of former lawmakers. And the American public clearly wants action.

This is a time of testing for members of the United States Senate. The opponents of reform are gearing up to keep it from coming to a vote at all. Let's be clear: A vote to filibuster campaign reform is a vote to keep special interest money and kill reform; a vote to filibuster is a vote for the status quo. A senator who votes "yes" on a filibuster is voting "yes" to soft money and "yes" to keep the cost of campaigns exploding -- and "no" on reform. That vote will be hard to explain to the American people.

This year, despite all the odds, we've got the best chance in a generation for reform. Throughout our history, the American people have overcome the resistance of entrenched interests to expand our democracy and to keep it strong in changing times. Let's make this autumn a season of reform in our campaign finance laws. Thanks for listening.