Gore Preaches Funding Reform for PoliticsBy Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 5, 1997; Page A07
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Oct. 4—One day after Attorney General Janet Reno extended her investigation into fund-raising telephone calls by Vice President Gore, he challenged Republicans to support campaign finance overhaul legislation.
Gore's two-day Florida swing, filled with upbeat photo ops and feisty partisan speeches, was aimed at deflecting attention from the Clinton administration's festering money woes. But in some respects, it only highlighted how difficult, if not impossible, it is for politicians to escape the money chase.
The vice president spent Friday night beside the Florida Aquarium's shark tank dining on grouper with about 50 people who donated $5,000 a couple to the state party. Today, after giving the keynote speech at the Florida Democratic convention, he flew to Jacksonville for closed meetings with about 50 members of the Progressive Foundation, a non-profit arm of the Democratic Leadership Council . The retreat, at the sprawling ranch of Howard Gilman, was not a fund-raiser, but many of the participants are major donors to the DLC's Progressive Policy Institute. Gilman is a frequent contributor to Democrats.
At the convention in Tampa, as Gore was urging lawmakers to "put your vote where your mouth is" on campaign finance reform, the Democratic National Committee was distributing a how-to manual for candidates who want to tap into the party's federal money stream.
"In order to participate in the coordinated campaign, you must `pay to play,' " instructs one page in the packet. Below the headline is an easy to follow graphic: a stack of bills with an arrow pointing to a baseball and bat.
Another page touts the benefits of participating in the federal-state program known as a coordinated campaign. Illustrated with bags of cash and dollar bills, the handout promises local candidates "More Money" for advertising, an additional way for "Donors to Give Money," and the opportunity to "Save Money through Economies of Scale."
Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who is head of the DNC, said the informational packet for campaign managers was routine. What's new is the Democratic Party's closer scrutiny of donations. "One of the things that's changed since February is we have a very rigorous identification of funds," he said.
On the question of 46 solicitation calls Gore made from his White House office, Romer said the average American applies the "common sense" test and concludes the controversy is exaggerated. "What is he expected to do, run out to the street and use a pay phone?"
Gore, attacking the GOP as the party of the past, said Republicans are blocking campaign finance reform.
House Speaker Newt "Gingrich says we ought to spend more money, not less on campaigns. [Senate Majority Leader] Trent Lott says giving unlimited money to campaigns is, in his words, the American way. Well, give me a break," Gore told about 1,500 Democratic activists. "They spent and raised $200 million more than we did in the last cycle. He's not talking about the American way; he's talking about the Republican way."
By Gore's count, all 45 Democrats and four Republicans in the Senate are prepared to vote for the overhaul bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.).
"Just give us one more Republican senator and I'll break the tie," he said to rousing applause.
But Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is promising to filibuster the bill, which means proponents would need 60 votes. In the weekly Republican radio speech, he called the McCain-Feingold bill "blatantly unconstitutional" and added, "Bill Clinton and Al Gore advocating campaign finance reform is like Bonnie and Clyde endorsing banking reform."
The White House rebutted McConnell's address with comments that President Clinton taped after delivering his own weekly radio address. "For five years now, we have watched the bipartisan effort to reform our campaign finance laws die at the hands of a filibuster in the United States Senate," Clinton said. "I hope this year will be different."
Clinton called the McCain-Feingold measure "a strong bill that would curb the power of special interests and increase the confidence of the American people in our campaign finance system."
In his speech to the state delegates, Gore said Republicans have become the extremist party while the Democratic pro-union, anti-tobacco, pro-immigrant agenda is in the mainstream.
Citing recent achievements on reducing crime, balancing the federal budget and expanding children's health care, he said: "We have won back the confidence and trust of the American middle class."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company