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Who Killed Campaign Finance Reform?

Aired July 12, 2001 - 19:30   ET



BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: ... and Democrat Marty Meehan, supported by Senators McCain and Feingold, the other by Republican Bob Ney and Democrat Albert Wynn. But members never got to vote on either one because they couldn't agree on how to vote.

That shelves any action on campaign reform, which, of course Democrats blame on Republicans and Republicans blame on Democrats. Whoever wins that argument, this much is clear: Today was a bad day for supporters of campaign finance reform. They vow to fight on, but the issue is dead for now. Will it ever come back? And should it -- Bob?

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Congressman Marty Meehan, thanks for coming in. Isn't it clear that your leadership, Dick Gephardt, pulled down the bill when all of the Democrats voted against the rule, because if it had gone to final passage, you didn't have enough votes to pass your bill, you would have had to pass Bob Ney's bill?

REP. MARTIN MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No, Bob, I think we had the votes to pass our bill. We simply wanted a fair opportunity to vote up or down the bill, and it wasn't just the Democrats who decided to vote no on this, what we felt was an unfair rule, 19 courageous Republicans did as well, so it's clear to me that there is broad, bipartisan consensus for campaign finance reform in the House.

We just need to have a vote up or down, and get this bill over to the Senate. I think the American people are going to demand that in the weeks ahead.

PRESS: Bob Ney, isn't it clear that if you look for the fingerprints on who killed campaign finance reform today, you're going to find the fingerprints of Dennis Hastert, Tom Delay, Dick Armey, and indirectly, George W. Bush. You guys didn't want a bill.

REP. BOB NEY (R), OHIO: Absolutely not. This is was Dick Gephardt, he lost control of his conference, he lost control of the Democrats. Albert Wynn stepped up to the plate with me to craft a bill that was constitutional and good. We put off so many votes -- it is no secret around this town -- we were steaming ahead.

And we gave Mr. Shays and Mr. Meehan everything they wanted, everything they wanted, but it wasn't enough. MEEHAN: That's not true, you didn't give us everything we wanted.

NEY: So, a lame excuse came forth, some smoke and mirrors. Richard Gephardt lost control, but I also think he was afraid of getting beat, because this was Gephardt for president.

MEEHAN: Bob, it seems that every time that Republicans -- we were ready to debate this rule, they cooked the books with the rule, and they get burned every time they do it, every time.

NEY: We gave you 12 amendments, 12!

MEEHAN: You didn't give us -- that was a manager's amendment, that -- we weren't asking for those amendments, that was a manager's amendment.

NEY: If I haven't talked to Chris -- I was in the room when I said, OK, Chris, you're unhappy -- the speaker was there...


NOVAK: Shays -- this is Chris Shays, the Republican co-sponsor of Mr. Meehan's bill.

NEY: Yes, sir. We were in the room, and the speaker said: "If you don't think it's fair, we think it's fair, but we will tell you what we'll do, we'll make the unblock." I was there, Marty.

MEEHAN: I admit to the unblock.

NEY: The Rules Committee reported this rule out at 1:00 in the morning.

NOVAK: You're going a little too fast for the people. When you say unblock, you mean you would take all the amendments and let them vote on it once.


NEY: ... Marty is getting excited because he knows what's about to be told. And on unblock was all of the 12 amendments by Chris Shays lumped together. I agreed to it, Mr. Shays, in total good faith, agreed to it, walked out and said: "Mr. Gephardt agrees to it," then a staff member of Mr. Gephardt, we were told point-blank then said "no deal." We lost...


MEEHAN: ... On the unblock amendment, which means -- first of all, they have these 14 votes they wanted us to have on our own bill. You were then -- then, at the last minute, apparently you guys compromised.


MEEHAN: No, no, they were technical corrections to the bill that should have been part of the bill to begin with.

NEY: Marty...

MEEHAN: But at 1:00 in the morning, they sent out a rule that requires us for the first time in 20 years to -- 20 years...

NOVAK: Let me slow down for just one second.

MEEHAN: The bottom line is -- the bottom line...

NOVAK: I just want to say that if you're saying that Mr. Ney is not telling the truth when he said that the Republican leadership was willing to take all these amendments and bundle them up, so you could have one vote on all the amendments, he's not telling the truth?

MEEHAN: That's only half the truth. The other half is that they also said that an amendment -- another amendment to try to kill the bill was going to be made in order by Mr. Ney, but they wouldn't tell us what the amendment was. We said, "could we have that amendment? Could we have that amendment?"


MEEHAN: Well, that's what happened. I told Mr. Gephardt I would...

NOVAK: Let me just set the stage, Congressman Meehan.


NOVAK: We have had stories on page one of all the papers that covered this, saying you don't have the votes to pass Shays-Meehan. It was in "The Washington Post." It was in "The Washington Times." It was in I don't know how many newspapers.

And then, all of a sudden, you supply all your votes to kill the bill, to kill the rule, and you say we had enough -- suddenly you say, we have enough votes, when in this morning's paper, your own party was quoted as saying we didn't have enough votes. Are you cooking the books here?

MEEHAN: No, we have been working on getting the votes, and we believe that at the end of this debate we would have the 218 votes to pass this bill.

NOVAK: Then why didn't you have a vote?

MEEHAN: Because we wanted a fair rule, Bob. It's -- you can't rig...


MEEHAN: You can't rig the rule, and then all of a sudden say, well...

(CROSSTALK) PRESS: I think we are getting a little too complicated in these amendments here moving back and forth. Let's just move on, because it seemed -- I'll tell you...


PRESS: ... the funniest thing that I saw today was Dennis Hastert -- and you were standing right in back of him -- shedding crocodile tears when this rule went down, saying this is a sad day for America. I mean, Mr. Ney, would you just be honest? Dennis Hastert doesn't want a bill, Tom Delay doesn't want a bill. This is a happy day for the opponents of campaign finance reform. You guys are probably going to drink champagne all night long.

NEY: I don't think so, but some members on both sides of the aisle didn't want a bill. Let me tell you, the speaker of the House, as we know in this town, he has got a reputation for he's genuine, he's fair, he bent over backwards multiple times for Chris Shays and for Marty Meehan indirectly -- for Chris Shays. It happened, he's sincere.

And we wanted a vote. We gave them every amendment they wanted. When Chris wasn't happy, I said I'll do an unblock, and he said, OK, Mr. Gephardt will accept an amendment from you, and guess what? Never got a chance to do it, because a staffer of Gephardt's on behalf of Gephardt killed this, because this is Gephardt for president, Marty, Gephardt for president. He didn't want to lose.

MEEHAN: That just isn't so. The fact of the matter is...


MEEHAN: They were opposed to this bill in the House, they were opposed to the bill in the Senate, there are all kinds of news stories...


MEEHAN: ... They didn't have the votes in the Senate, it was going to die in the Senate, the end of the debate...


PRESS: I want to answer your question, I want to suggest why your bill was there. Because, you know, about 30 years ago, I started out working as a young kid in a California legislature, not elected, a staffer.

NOVAK: He was never elected to anything.

PRESS: It was the oldest -- one of the oldest tricks in the book, Bob Ney, was when you wanted to kill something, you don't -- you don't kill it directly, you put a phony bill up, and so people can vote yes on the phony bill and, in effect, kill the real bill, which is his. That's it. You're just a stalker to now allow members to kill this bill, isn't that it? NEY: It was a good bill. It was Albert Wynn and I, we drew votes from all sides of the aisle, all philosophies...

PRESS: You didn't ban soft money.

NEY: We had a ban on soft money to national political parties.

MEEHAN: Well, let's bring it up next week then! Why can't we vote on this bill next week?


NEY: ... he had to change his bill, it evolved daily, because...

NOVAK: Let me ask you, let me ask you...


NEY: ... we could bring it up on Tuesday.

MEEHAN: I agree to it today...

PRESS: Tomorrow.

NOVAK: This is not the Rules Committee.


NOVAK: Congressman Meehan, I think you're not telling one very important part of the story, that the many of the Democrats in this majority to kill the rule want to kill the bill. Not only -- just a minute -- not only rank-and-file Democrats, but the chairman of the Democratic caucus, my good friend Martin Frost of Texas wanted to kill the whole bill, so the idea that this was just a coalition, these Democrats plus 19 Republicans was a pro-campaign finance reform coalition, just not true, isn't it?

MEEHAN: You know that we've passed this bill already twice in the House of Representatives with overwhelming Democratic...


NEY: ... this was a different bill.

MEEHAN: We have been working -- this is a bipartisan and also bicameral bill. We've passed it twice already. We were poised to pass it again.

NOVAK: Was I not telling the truth about Congressman Frost?

MEEHAN: I don't know what Congressman Frost's position is on the bill.

NOVAK: You don't know what his position is?

MEEHAN: I know that overwhelming majority -- I know that the overwhelming majority...

NEY: Did you count them?

MEEHAN: Yes, I did count votes, and I think we had 195 Democrats and I think we would have gotten 35 or 40 Republicans and would have passed the bill.


NOVAK: He said -- he said at this table, with me sitting here, and he told...

MEEHAN: He's just one Democrat.

NOVAK: But he's a chairman of your caucus!

MEEHAN: Dick Gephardt has managed this effectively, not once, not twice, but the third time.

NOVAK: Isn't there something funny going on when the chairman of your caucus is against the...

MEEHAN: The vast majority of the Democratic Party...


PRESS: Let me point out, if we're talking about defectors: as of this morning, there were 15 Republicans who said they were going to vote against the rule. When the vote count finally came, there were 19 Republicans who voted against the rule, there were 30 Republicans that were going to vote for his bill. You didn't have the leadership of your own -- or I'm sorry, the support of your own party, did you?

NEY: We had plenty of Democrat votes today for that rule, plenty of Democrat votes. Mr. Gephardt pulled the chains around, because of the fact that he lost control of his conference, he brought the rule down.

But I'll tell you what, those aren't technical amendments -- and it's a shame for everybody.

This Washington baseball talk here today, it's a shame for the American people that campaign reform both bills didn't have a vote. That's a shame, Marty.

PRESS: You keep trying to blame Dick Gephardt. Let me let you listen to a Republican who disagrees with you. This is something that Chris Shays had to say, I believe it was yesterday, but just before we came down here, at this news conference with Marty Meehan, Chris Shays said again today, you cannot blame Dick Gephardt.

Here is who Chris Shays tells us whom you can blame. Here he is.


REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: If this bill goes down, it won't be the fault of the man on my right, and it won't be the fault of the Democratic Party. If this bill goes down it will be the fault of my own party. That's where the blame will lie.


PRESS: Republican saying Republican Party killed campaign finance reform. That's going haunt you until 2002.

NEY: I talked to Chris Shays less than 3 hours ago. That tape was yesterday, Chris Shays said in front of about 200 people three hours ago, that we agreed to what he wanted. We agreed to bundle the amendments.

PRESS: He said less than an hour ago you cannot blame Dick Gephardt. NEY: Chris is very frustrated. He's being used by Mr. Gephardt.

NOVAK: We are going to have to take a break. When we come back, we will find out what was the role of the Congressional Black Caucus in campaign finance reform showdown today.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The House of Representatives took a dive on campaign finance reform today. All the Democrats and 19 Republicans killed the rule which permits the House to consider the bill.

Which party is to blame? We're talking to Democratic Congressman Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, cosponsor of the reform backed by the Democratic leadership, and to Republican Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio, cosponsor of the alternative bill supported by the Republican leadership -- Bill Press.

PRESS: Congressman Ney and Congressman Meehan, with all due respect I think you have a lot of credibility on campaign finance reform. I think there's one man in the country who has the most of all. It happens to be John McCain. It's his issue. He ran on it as president and he did very well. Here's what he had to say, Congressman Ney, about your bill. John McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It would allow all the scandals that we know of in the past, the $50,000 coffees and the nights in the Lincoln bedroom and the money from Mrs. Rich, would all be allowed under this sham that they are calling an alternative to the Shays- Meehan bill.


PRESS: Bingo. Sham.

NEY: The Ney-Wynn bill that had the votes, that's why Marty's party stopped it, was a good bill and it provides for free speech, it does the things we need to do. That's why people latched on to that bill. That's why they did, and also Shays-Meehan evolved hourly away from Senator McCain because they were losing the votes daily as we spoke.

PRESS: But speak to what Senator McCain said, under your bill you still allow $75,000 in soft money so one person can't give as much, it just means more people can give smaller amounts. So they can still do all that same stuff, all the coffees, all the Denise Rich stuff, all the Lincoln bedroom sleep-overs, all those issue ads -- you don't do anything with your bill.

NEY: They can do all those forms of corruption under John McCain's bill, under Shays-Meehan.

PRESS: Not with soft-money.

NEY: Corruptions can occur in many ways to find another way to funnel...

MEEHAN: So just let them pile up all the soft money they can take?

NEY: No, corruption should be stopped, but I'm not going gag Americans and tell them you advocates can't speak up, but Shays-Meehan will let billionaires spend as much money..


MEEHAN: The fact is the Republican Party is addicted to this soft money. They announced how much money they have raised this year, they've broken every record in the book. The fact of the matter is we have to get rid of this soft money system and your bill allows unlimited soft money to be funneled through the state party and used in federal campaigns. It was a sham.

NEY: That's why you pooled our bill today.

NOVAK: Congressman Marty Meehan, Congressman Ney did something you didn't think what is going to happen, he got Congressman Wynn of Maryland, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus as a co-sponsor, and let's listen to what another member of the Congressional Black Caucus had to say about this issue.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: If you deal with campaign finance reform in a way that basically makes it very, very difficult, if not impossible, to get out the vote, you've got a major, major conflict there.


NOVAK: Isn't that the truth? If you take away soft money from the state parties, they have great difficulty in the black communities in getting out the vote?

MEEHAN: Bob, let me tell you something. If you take all the soft money that was raised in the last election cycle, 8 percent of it went to get out the vote. Soft money is not use for get out the vote. Soft money is used for silly negative ads that they used in campaigns all over the country.

It's not used to get out the vote, but we have provisions in our bill however to give the flexibility so local parties can use some soft money for specifically getting people registered to vote and getting them out to vote.

But let's not assume that soft money is all to get out the vote. Soft money is for television ads.

NOVAK: Then explain me this, Congressman Meehan, that after these defections occurred in the Congressional Black Caucus, the minority leader of the House, Democrat leader Dick Gephardt agreed to put in more money on get out the vote into the black districts. Was that, if that wasn't to compensate for soft money, was that just a bribe? Was that a bribe?

MEEHAN: I agree with the Black Caucus that the Democratic Party needs to put money into voter registration, voter education, and get out the vote. The Democratic Party should have done that last cycle. I'm in favor of increasing the participation with hard dollar monies.

NOVAK: There's no connection with Mr. Gephardt putting more money out...

MEEHAN: The Black Caucus was rightly leveraging their position in the caucus to say we need more...


... and you know what, they're right on that issue but you don't need to have the corrupting influence of soft money to get out the vote.

PRESS: If I may, I would posit that I know more about how state parties run than anybody sitting at this table.

NOVAK: And you lost all the elections when you were state chairman.

PRESS: Yes, yes, yes, having been state chair of the largest state in the union for three years. You're right, the most important thing that a party does is voter registration and get out the vote.

But I want to quote something that Fred Wertheimer said, the head of Democracy 21, former head of Common Cause. Here's what he told the "Christian Science Monitor:" "You can't hide behind the fact that soft money may be used for good ends like voter registration. But good ends do not justify a system that is corrupting out democracy."

Bob Ney, he's absolutely right, isn't he?

NEY: And you know, Al Wynn and I crafted a bill that had full disclosure. MEEHAN: It allowed federal officials to raise unlimited (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NEY: Because you have soft money in your bill, don't you, Marty?


MEEHAN: When somebody picks up the phone and says "can you give me a million dollars," do you think they're going to have an influence?

NEY: Do you have soft money?

MEEHAN: We don't allow federal...

NEY: Do you have soft money in your bill?

MEEHAN: We allow state parties to use their voting registration and get out the...


MEEHAN: No, that's...


PRESS: No, because you used this bogus answer there. You thought you'd get away, and it'd just pass. Disclosure! I mean, disclosure is no -- that's no prize at all. So they're doing wrong. Wait, they're doing wrong, they're putting all these phony issue ads on the air, and I know who's paying for them, I'm supposed to feel good about that? That's baloney!

NEY: We have to know who and how much, and that way people can judge for themselves.

PRESS: But they're still doing it.

MEEHAN: You don't require them to tell who the donors are, though. That's the key: where the money comes from...


NEY: There's an NAACP core committee for...


PRESS: Committee for America paid for...


NEY: We caught you. You've got soft money in your bill.

MEEHAN: The Republican Party has been looking to defeat campaign finance reform all year long.

NOVAK: That's your rhetoric, but can we move away from the rhetoric to some hard numbers?


NOVAK: On hard money, that's the $1,000 and $2,000 contributions, $5,000 in some cases, the Republicans had, in the year 2000, almost twice as much, $465 million to $249 million for the Democrats. On soft money -- soft money -- it's about even, 275-245. So in other words, Martin Frost, who ran the Congressional Campaign Committee in 2000 for the Democrats, he is exactly right when he says this is devastating to the Democratic Party because it takes away the part of the playing field where you're running even with the Republicans.

MEEHAN: No, he's wrong because as a matter of public policy, this is devastating to the American people. It's the reason we don't have a patients' bill of rights, because the HMO's contributed millions of dollars in soft money. The trial lawyers on the other side, millions of dollars of soft money. Bob, it's the reason we don't have a prescription drug coverage for seniors out of Medicare program, because of $15.7 million from a soft pharmaceutical industry got funneled to the parties.

NOVAK: The president just proposed a prescription drug...


MEEHAN: I'm talking about getting it passed. That's the key: getting it passed. The reason the environmental laws in this country are always in jeopardy: because the big polluters are spending millions of dollars in soft money, and the American people know it. That's why we have to tighten it up.

NOVAK: You said something a while ago, that the Republicans were addicted to soft money, and I just showed you both parties...

MEEHAN: Both parties have been addicted to soft money.

NOVAK: Oh, you agree...


MEEHAN: But the Democratic Party, with some courageous Republicans are looking to change this corruption...

NOVAK: Do you know who Barry Gordy is?

MEEHAN: Yes, he's one of the fund-raisers.

NOVAK: He's the head of Motown Records. You know what Motown Records is...


NOVAK: He's having on his estate a huge, big fund-raiser with oodles and oodles of soft money. Why -- what kind of hypocrisy is that when you sit here and talk about a corrupting influence of soft money, and the leaders of your party, including Dick Gephardt and Charlie Rangel are asking for contributions to that.

MEEHAN: We are looking to change this system. We know that the soft...

NOVAK: Well then why are you raising the money?

MEEHAN: Well, that doesn't mean you unilaterally disarm, Bob. That's just what you'd like, the Democrats to unilaterally disarm. We are for campaign finance reform...


PRESS: I want to ask you a final question here. During the break Marty Meehan said we don't have to wait until September for this. We know where the votes are. Let's have an up or down vote when you come back on Tuesday.

I want to ask you tonight, right here on national television, will you recommend to Dennis Hastert that there be a vote on both of these bills up and down on Tuesday?

NEY: I personally made a commitment today and agreed to every single thing that Chris Shays and Marty Meehan wanted...

MEEHAN: Why can't we have an up or down vote?

PRESS: Will you answer the question?

MEEHAN: Why can't we vote up or down?

NEY: You're playing a game with the American people. You stopped the bill today.

MEEHAN: You guys...


NEY: You take a breath and we can reasonably talk about this, but don't play the game.

MEEHAN: Let's have an up or down vote.

NEY: I'd love it. That's what we wanted.

PRESS: We'll take that as a no answer.

Gentlemen, that's got to be the last word. Thank you Bob Ney for coming in, and thank you Marty Meehan.

MEEHAN: Thanks Bill.

PRESS: I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of you. And you'll be seeing more of Bob Novak and me with closing comments coming right up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PRESS: Tomorrow night on CROSSFIRE, the first member of the Congress to call for the resignation of California Democrat Gary Condit, Republican Bob Barr joins us to discuss the impact of the Condit-Levy investigation on Capitol Hill tomorrow night, 7:30 Eastern regular time.

Bob, you know what, believe it or not, even though I support McCain-Feingold and Shays-Meehan, I think this is good what happened today because it shows the whole country that most Democrats are for campaign reform, most Republicans are against it. That's going hurt them in 2002.

NOVAK: That's super spin, Bill. Bill, you tried to explain to our viewers about how you put up a phony bill and all this. Let me tell you this: What the American people can't understand is why the Democrats -- all of the Democrats -- would not let it come to a vote. If they had the votes as they claim, let each amendment come up, vote down the bad ones, pass the good ones and send it. But they didn't have the votes, Bill. That's the truth.

PRESS: The American people will believe John McCain when he says that Dennis Hastert tried to kill the real bill. That's the bill for you.

From the left.

NOVAK: You love McCain, don't you.

PRESS: I do. From the left, I'm Bill Press, good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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