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Bush outlines campaign-finance views to Capitol Hill

March 15, 2001
Web posted at: 8:41 p.m. EST (0141 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With his former primary rival pressing the issue of campaign finance reform, President Bush sent a letter to Capitol Hill Thursday outlining his views in what his spokesman said was an attempt to reach an agreement.

"He thinks very strongly that this is the year we can actually get it done," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters before the letter was sent. "He wants to have an agreement."

Bush spoke briefly on the matter outside the White House. "I think we ought to get rid of labor union and corporate soft money," he said.

Fleischer said the president had been in touch with senators via phone and dinner meetings at the White House to "put together a coalition to support his principles."

He said Bush has been in close contact with Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who championed campaign-finance reform in his failed presidential run.

McCain and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, have pushed for campaign-finance reform in recent years. The McCain-Feingold legislation would ban unregulated money to political parties, require greater disclosure and restrict advertisements from outside groups. Republicans oppose the measure along with at least one Democrat, Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana.

Fleischer said, "We're going to work with Senator McCain."

He said the president believes strongly that soft money -- unrestricted funds to political parties -- from corporations and unions should be banned. Fleischer also said Bush believes in full disclosure of campaign donations.

However, Bush has insisted that any reform bill mandate that union members be given a choice on whether their dues can be diverted to political candidates -- most often Democrats.

Fleischer said the political dynamics have changed on Capitol Hill and that such legislation should be able to pass through Congress. He said politicians always talk about campaign-finance reform, but "for some reason, somehow it never gets done."

In an interview with CNN's Judy Woodruff, McCain said it never gets done because members of Congress don't want it to get done.

"The present system is an incumbent protection system," he said.

And he admitted his bill, in its present form, is not a permanent fix for campaign-finance reform.

"The system will have to be fixed again in 20 or 30 years, because the money will find its way into campaigns," he said.

McCain said the compromise proposal on the issue set forth by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, "only legalizes soft money" because it doesn't ban it altogether.

But, he said, "There are some provisions of his bill which are very good. I've talked to him about it, some of the provisions on disclosure I would like to adopt."

McCain said the campaign finance system has gone out of control, "which has made young Americans cynical and even alienated from the political process."

"Now the political parties have become conduits for big money to run in ad campaigns attacking candidates. That's really what parties are all about today, and that's why you see the most new registered voters are not registering as Republicans or Democrats, but as independents," McCain said.



RELATED STORIES:
Breaux to vote against McCain-Feingold bill
March 14, 2001
McCain, Lott agree 'in principle' on campaign finance reform schedule
January 26, 2001
McCain launches campaign finance reform town hall tour
January 29, 2001

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