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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore to Pitch Huge Campaign Reform Effort

March 27, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG and MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Vice President Al Gore plans to propose a massive overhaul of the nation's campaign finance system today, including the creation of a public endowment to pay for presidential and congressional general election campaigns.

In a proposal that he says would be sent to Congress on the first day of a Gore presidency, he would also ban so-called soft money from campaigns and force wider disclosure of lobbying activities.

The vice president plans to unveil the proposal during a campaign speech at Marquette University in Milwaukee, with Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), who along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has been at the forefront of stalled efforts to rewrite the nation's campaign finance laws.

As evidence of public dissatisfaction with lobbying and the influence of wealthy contributors to politicians has grown--most recently with the support McCain's insurgency bid received in the race for the Republican presidential nomination--Gore has been struggling to find a way to take advantage of it.

At the same time, he has, with unflagging energy, chased after massive contributions for the Democratic National Committee, even as he bemoaned the need for private cash in politics and sought to limit his own political exposure stemming from the fund-raising abuses of the 1996 presidential campaign.

Recognizing his own liabilities, Gore was expected, an aide said, to describe himself as "an imperfect messenger," and say, according to a text:

"I know first-hand what is wrong with the way we fund our political campaigns. I care very deeply about the integrity of our politics--and of course my own integrity as well. My commitment to changing America's campaign finance laws is both personal and profound."

As described by a senior Gore advisor, the proposal represents "Al Gore's plan to restore faith in American democracy."

It would:

* Ban what are now the unlimited and largely unregulated contributions to political parties known as soft money that have ballooned in recent years. Donors and politicians sought ways to get around the contribution limits that were imposed a quarter century ago to restrict corporations from purchasing influence in the creation of public policy.

* Force lobbyists to disclose each month the names of politicians they made contributions to and the lobbying activities in which they engaged.

* Challenge Congress to post on the Internet the information, which would be collected monthly.

* Strengthen the Federal Election Commission, in particular its powers of investigation.

* Require the tax-exempt committees that pay for independent issue advertising in campaigns, what one Gore aide called "the Swiss bank accounts of the campaigns," to provide information about their support.

* Widen disclosure requirements imposed on other issue-advocacy operations, including the names of principal officers and contributors, by forcing them to post all such data related to any advertising they support that appears within the 60 days preceding an election.

* Provide the campaigns targeted by issue advertising with free, equal time to rebut the attacks.

But the centerpiece is the Democracy Endowment.

It would create, by 2008, a $7.1-billion fund to pay for general election campaigns of presidential, House and Senate candidates. The endowment, similar to that of a university, would be built with contributions from taxpayers, including corporations, which would be eligible for 100% tax deductions, much like charitable contributions.

A candidate would be permitted to reject the funding and spend privately raised sums, but the opposing candidate would be granted equal amounts from the endowment, thus discouraging the use of private contributions.

Under the plan, candidates accepting the money could take no other campaign funding. The deductions would cost the federal treasury $2.1 billion, the Gore staff figured.

The amount to which a candidate would be eligible would be determined by a formula based on population and campaign costs in a district or state. Thus, the candidates in the California congressional district in the northwest corner of the state, where television advertising would likely be less expensive than a more populated media market, would get less than the candidates running in San Diego.

Gore's Republican rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, announced his campaign finance reform plan in a speech last month while battling McCain. Bush proposed that federally registered lobbyists be prohibited from contributing to members of Congress while Congress is in session. He also supported a ban on unions and corporations from donating soft money to political parties.

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