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CAMPAIGN 2000

Buchanan Consigns GOP, Democrats to D.C. 'Swamp'

Politics: Reform Party candidate dismisses both major parties as captive to cash as he details his plan for campaign finance reform in Harvard speech.

March 17, 2000|SAM FULWOOD III | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Reform Party presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan attacked both Democrats and Republicans on Thursday as "Beltway parties" that are not serious about breaking free of the cash provided by special interests, as he offered for the first time specific details of his plan to revise campaign finance laws.

"Neither Beltway party is going to drain this swamp because to them it is not a swamp at all but a protected wetland and their natural habitat," he said in a coolly received speech at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "They swim in it, feed in it, spawn in it."

Buchanan also acknowledged that he could siphon away votes from Republican George W. Bush but said he will pursue his candidacy nonetheless to further the conservative causes he champions.

Calling the party of Ronald Reagan dead, the former longtime Republican portrayed himself and the fractured Reform Party as the best hope for political change. "I came to the conclusion that [Bush] was going to win the nomination, that he was an establishment candidate and that Al Gore was going to beat him, and we're going to go down to defeat for the third time," Buchanan said.

Buchanan said he was running for the White House on a platform that calls for banning unlimited and loosely regulated donations from corporations and labor unions.

Additionally, he proposed a 50% cap on the amount of money federal lawmakers could accept legally from beyond their home districts or states. "Let's put an end to the buying of House and Senate seats by Wall Street, Hollywood and Silicon Valley," he said to a smattering of applause from a small group of supporters in the audience.

Buchanan said he favors congressional term limits and raising the limit on individual contributions from the $1,000 maximum set in 1974 to $3,000 and indexing future increases to the rate of inflation.

He argued that allowing an increase in the individual contributions would protect the public's 1st Amendment right to freedom of expression and term limits would allow insurgent campaigns like his to take root in challenging the institutional power of the Democrats and Republicans.

"We will not break the stranglehold of the Beltway parties until we break up the incumbent protection racket," he said, noting that GOP leaders took control of Congress in 1994 only to break their pledge to abide by term limits. "Lifetime tenure is for Harvard professors, not members of Congress."

Lenora Fulani, the erstwhile New Alliance Party presidential candidate and now a Reform Party activist, sat among the Harvard students with a group of button-wearing Buchanan supporters. She nodded aggressively as Buchanan tossed off rhetorical quips that chided both major parties' likely presidential nominees--Texas Gov. Bush for the GOP and Vice President Al Gore for the Democrats--as "chemically dependent on soft money."

"This is the first time he's made it so plain what he stands for on campaign contributions," Fulani said. "This is the issue that has caused me to support him." Fulani, who has been mentioned as a vice presidential running mate for Buchanan, said that's unlikely because she supports abortion rights and Buchanan has made it clear he is against abortion.

"But there are other reasons for why I'm here and supporting him," she said after the speech. Though clearly outnumbered by the college students and community activists, the conservative Buchanan backers appeared delighted to be in the midst of the skeptical and challenging crowd at a place they consider the center of liberal American thought.

Indeed, several students came to the speech primed for confrontation and armed with quotations from some of the former television pundit and newspaper columnist's comments about Jews, abortion, women's rights, race relations and homosexuality. But Buchanan never backed off anything he had written or said. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the combative irreverence of the crowd, laughing out loud when one male student took the microphone to ask "Mr. Buchanan, would you go out on a date with me tonight?"

"I don't know, I'll have to ask my wife, Shelley," said the candidate, who has often exchanged rhetorical barbs with gay activists. Then, still laughing, Buchanan pointed out his wife as she sat at the front of the audience. "She said she doesn't care if I do."

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