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2 Political Elders Tapped for Campaign Reform Push

Financing: White House says Democrat Walter Mondale and Republican Nancy Kassebaum-Baker agree to lead public-education project on financing of campaigns.

March 18, 1997|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Escalating the Clinton administration's pressure on Congress to enact campaign finance reform, Vice President Al Gore on Monday announced the appointment of two party elders, one from each party, to lead a public-education project on the need to change the way elections are bankrolled.

"If we don't act quickly, and if we don't act in a truly bipartisan fashion, reform will fail this year," Gore said at the White House as he introduced former vice president and former Sen. Walter F. Mondale (D-Minn.) and former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum-Baker (R-Kan.).

Gore, who has come under fire for questionable fund-raising tactics--including making solicitation calls from the White House--said that the current system is awash in special-interest money. "Something must be done, and now is the time," he said.

Filling in for President Clinton, who is recovering from knee surgery, Gore reiterated the administration's support for a reform proposal sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.). Their bill, considered a longshot, would ban "soft-money" contributions, reduce the influence of political action committees and provide free or discounted television time and postal rates for congressional candidates who agree to restrain campaign spending.

Noting that "organized interests in Washington are mobilizing to block reform," Gore said the key to change will rest on the ability of reformers to "engage the broad American public."

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The appointments of Mondale and Kassebaum-Baker came just days after a broad anti-reform coalition--made up of liberal and conservative special-interest groups--held a press conference on Capitol Hill to denounce any attempt to limit campaign spending as a violation of the free-speech doctrine.

The stepped-up jockeying to influence public opinion on campaign finance reform comes as McCain, Feingold and their allies, including former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and Common Cause, are preparing to attend public rallies next week at Boston's Fanueil Hall and Philadelphia's Liberty Bell designed to energize grass-roots support for reform.

"What you're seeing is a growing momentum. It's no longer just about pointing out what the problems are, but people saying how do we move toward a solution," said Common Cause president Ann McBride.

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The naming of Mondale and Kassebaum-Baker also was hailed by McCain, Feingold and their chief House allies, Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), who called it "cause for great celebration and encouragement."

But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) dismissed the White House announcement as a diversion from the fund-raising scandals dogging the Clinton White House and the Democratic National Committee.

"I assume it's just another effort to distract attention from all the problems that they're having to deal with," Lott told reporters.

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