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Excerpts from Opening Statements

Associated Press
Wednesday, July 9, 1997; Page A06

Following are excerpts from opening statements from members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee at the opening of hearings into campaign finance abuses yesterday:

Chairman Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.):

The committee believes that high-level Chinese government officials crafted a plan to increase China's influence over the U.S. political process. The committee has identified specific steps taken in furtherance of the plan. Implementation of the plan has been handled by Chinese government officials and individuals enlisted to assist in the effort. Activities in the furtherance of the plan have occurred both inside and outside of the United States. Our investigations suggest that the plan continues today. . . .

Although most discussion of the plan focuses on Congress, our investigations suggest it affected the 1996 presidential race and state elections as well. The government of China is believed to have allocated substantial sums of money to achieve its objectives.

Another aspect of the plan is remarkable because it shows that the [People's Republic of China] is interested in developing long-term relationships with persons it has identified as up-and-coming government – up-and-coming officials at state and local levels. The intent is to establish relations that can be cultivated as the officials rise through the ranks to higher office. . . .

I think it's important for us to remember what these hearings are and what they are not. They are not trials where people are prosecuted, they are not soap operas that are designed to titillate, and they are not athletic events where we keep a running score. Rather, these hearings are serious looks at how our government is working, how our government is operating. And it's designed, at the end, toward seeing if we can't make our system, make our government work even better. . . .

Now, the allegations before us are extremely serious. They include: illegal foreign contributions and other illegal foreign involvement in our political process; money laundering, influence peddling; violations of the Hatch Act, which prevents fund-raising on government time and government property; violations of the Ethics in Government Act; violations of the conflict of interest laws; improper use of the White House in fund-raising activities; and questions of whether our government's domestic and foreign policy was affected by political contributions.

Now, these matters go to the basic integrity of our government and our electoral process, and these matters will constitute the first phase of our hearings. There apparently was a systematic influx of illegal money in our presidential race last year. We will be wanting to know who knew about it, who should have known about it, and whether or not there was an attempt to cover it up. . . .

Now, these hearings come at a time . . . when the American people are increasingly cynical about their government. We have less than half of our people voting now. I believe that part of this is due to what has happened to our political process, as evidenced by the matters that this committee will be considering. The American people see their leaders go to greater and greater extreme to raise unprecedented amounts of money to fund their political campaigns. Power is at stake, and the ends justify the means. And I believe that this thirst for increasing amounts of political money, and what people are willing to do to get it, lie at the heart of this investigation. . . .

Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio):

In the eyes of most people, the timbers of our political structure have developed a rot that must be dealt with, or it can spread to dangerous proportions, adding to distrust and cynicism and doubts of those who won't participate, who drop out or they join protest groups with varying motivations. And that rot is the pernicious effect of huge amounts of money in today's political spectrum – both Republican and Democratic. The abuses have been bipartisan, and our investigations must be bipartisan if the results of these long and expensive efforts are to have sufficient credibility to be used as a base for meaningful campaign finance reform. . . .

With the committee's expertise and long investigative history, we've not only been assigned a major responsibility, but also a great opportunity: to start restoring faith that our government and political systems represent all the people, all the time, not special interests and all the people part time.

But that will be accomplished only if the investigation is done right. And what do I mean by that? Well, I mean that we must show the American people the truth about our campaign finance system: that your chances of winning are – are dependent on how much money you raise; that fund-raising has become so all-consuming, it has pushed both parties to seek to get as close to the edge of the federal election laws as possible; and that in their zealousness in seeking the edge of the law, both parties have at times stepped over the edge. . . .

I am in favor of rooting out and exposing all the information on fund-raising abuses without fear or favors, whether they're on a Democratic or a Republican side, wherever that trail leads us. We should examine any illegalities involving foreign or domestic money. We should examine whether federal election laws have been broken or been abused by individuals and organizations, and willful violators should be severely punished.

But if that is all we do, we will have failed in this investigation, and failed miserably, because . . . the measure of success for this investigation will be whether it produces congressional action for campaign finance reform – substantial reform, not the little bit of reform some in the Congress might advocate to reduce public pressure. . . .

What evidence is there that foreign money was actively solicited in the 1996 federal elections?

We do know that some foreign money came to the Republican Party, and I'll explain that in more detail later. Did it happen in Democratic fund-raising circles as well? Let's find out. I'm all for finding out.

Also, is there any real evidence that the Chinese government, or any other foreign government, actually infiltrated the American government via campaign contributions? If there was Chinese government money illegally entering the American political system, is there any evidence that such money went to candidates of only one political party? . . .

Now, I mention these reports here because I am greatly concerned about how the reports are sometimes discussed by individuals in this body and in the press. I've heard language like "infiltration," "foreign spies," foreigners," we're "jeopardizing our national security." Well, on this issue, the committee should go just as far as the facts take us, recognizing that it's the FBI that's in a much better position than a congressional committee to do an espionage investigation. We must be careful, however, not to jump to conclusions that treason has been committed based on a partial story with ambiguous information. . . .

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.):

The chase for money has led most of us in public office, or seeking public office, to push the envelope, to take the law to the limits to get the necessary contributions. The money chase led President Clinton to invite contributors to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom overnight. It led President [George] Bush in 1992 to use White House stationery to announce a briefing by Cabinet members, and the president himself, for three Republican contributor groups at the Old Executive Office Building, with a reception to follow in the Indian Room. . . .

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine):

Until it becomes part of our political ethos to honor the purposes underlying our campaign finance laws, rather than trying to subvert them through legalistic loopholes, there may be merit to the contention that our laws will never be tight enough to withstand the mania for money. . . .

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.):

Congress has a legitimate and appropriate role, protecting the integrity of elections and in assuring a foreign policy conducted in the national interest. The most important questions before us deal with a convergence of these concerns; therefore, the fundamental question of these hearings is whether this administration faithfully executed its responsibility to protect the American national interest or if that function was infiltrated and compromised. . . .

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.):

We must be finders of fact and searchers for truth. And when we learn the truth, we must tell it to all who will listen, so that the prosecutors will be better enabled to pursue past wrongdoers and the people will be emboldened to demand better protection in campaign laws from future wrongs.

At same time, Mr. Chairman, we must be careful not to be overzealous, lest we risk allowing these hearings to degenerate into a partisan witch hunt or a bipartisan headline hunt. . . .

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.):

The American people have a right to know and Congress has a constitutional responsibility to investigate whether the executive branch and the national parties and their committees were willing to place the pursuit of campaign money ahead of other concerns, including sovereignty and national security. . . .

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii):

We should be gravely concerned if foreign companies or countries have influenced our electoral process. I strongly condemn illegal fund-raising activities. But I do not hold all Asian-Pacific Americans responsible for the alleged actions of a few.

Asian-Pacific Americans should not be held to a higher standard than other citizens. Nor should we believe that all Asian-Pacific American political contributions are suspect. We must not be guilty of selective harassment of those with Asian surnames. . . .

© Copyright 1997 The Associated Press

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