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Clinton Backs Reining In of Fund-Raising

By Joan Biskupic
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 14, 1997; Page A07

President Clinton yesterday urged Congress to overhaul campaign finance laws, saying candidates are caught up in a "fund-raising arms race" and that the system for paying for U.S. political campaigns is broken.

In his weekly radio address, Clinton said, "The campaign finance system we have now, which is over 20 years old, has simply been overwhelmed by the rising cost of campaigns. . . . The amount of money raised by both political parties now doubles every four years."

The escalation of costs and the increasing time candidates must devote to raising money "is bound to raise more questions in the public's mind," he said, adding that "we've got the best chance in a generation for reform."

Clinton's remarks came as Senate Democrats are pushing Republican leaders to bring a campaign finance bill to the floor. Last week, all 45 Senate Democrats pledged to vote for the campaign finance bill cosponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has said he wants the Senate to finish up the current hearings into fund-raising abuses before it considers changing the rules.

The hearings before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee have focused so far on questionable fund-raising practices by the Democratic National Committee during Clinton's reelection campaign and, to a lesser extent, on foreign financing for an organization affiliated with the Republican National Committee.

In the past two weeks, the hearings have focused on fund-raising solicitations made by Vice President Gore, and Republicans on the committee have questioned whether Gore and Clinton knew of plans by the DNC to shift largely unregulated campaign contributions into more tightly controlled accounts without the knowledge of those who donated the money.

The pending McCain-Feingold legislation would ban unregulated "soft money" contributions of the type solicited by Gore and provide incentives like free television time for candidates who abide by voluntary spending limits. The legislation also would restrict campaign contributions by political action committees.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), an outspoken foe of the McCain-Feingold bill, has predicted it will not pass. He argues that restrictions on campaign contributions would impinge free political speech.

Despite the many questions surrounding the means his reelection campaign used to raise money in 1995-96, Clinton said yesterday he has done what he can to help the overall campaign finance system.

"I've asked our Federal Communications Commission to require media outlets to provide candidates with free airtime, which will reduce the need for more campaign money," Clinton said. "I've also asked the Federal Election Commission to ban the large `soft money' contributions to political parties from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals."

Public Citizen, a consumer group that has been critical of fund-raising practices by Democrats and Republicans alike, yesterday praised Clinton's call for reform. "People are sick of waiting for an overhaul in the political fund-raising system that amounts to legalized bribery," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook.

The Republican radio response yesterday did not address campaign fund-raising. Instead, Rep. Frank Riggs (R-Calif.) used the time to talk about GOP proposals for education reform, including higher academic standards and increased accountability in the spending of taxpayer dollars in schools.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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