Campaign Finance Reform

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, March 19, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST:   The United States Senate passed a campaign finance bill today.  Most in Washington seem to be praising the sweeping legislation as much-needed reform, but not our next guest.  The bill took seven years to pass largely because Republican Senator Mitch McConnell tried so hard to stop it.  He now vows to challenge the law in court.

Earlier, I asked him if he agrees that the perception among Americans is that politicians on both sides have been for sale in recent years.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY:  Well, that may be the perception, but it's not the reality.  And you know, we shouldn't legislate based upon perception, particularly, Greta, when it involves the 1st Amendment to the United States constitution, which gives everyone an opportunity to have their say in the political process.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Well, when you talk about the 1st Amendment, and we're talking about the fact that -- you know, the question of whether or not you can put limits on money and whether money is speech.  You know, when you're thinking about the little guy who's sitting back in your home state or my home state of Wisconsin, who would give maybe $10 or $15 or $100, they can always -- each person can still do that.

MCCONNELL:  Sure.  And, you know, the way the little guy participates, if he wants to, is by pooling his resources with others.  I give you an example.  The most powerful interest group in Washington doesn't make political contributions at all.  It is the AARP.  Why are they the most powerful?  They have the largest membership.

I think that what got peoples' attention, in terms of soft money, was that there have not been limits on soft money to parties.  Been disclosed, which is how everybody knows who's giving what, but there haven't been limits.  What we could have done, which would have been a step in the right direction, was to put a cap on soft money, just like we've had a cap on hard money for over a quarter of a century.  But Congress instead decided to zero it out.

So the practical effect of that, Greta, is to reduce the influence of the political parties, the groups -- the only entity out there that'll come to bat for a challenger, and transfer all that money to outside interest groups, who are going to have even more power than they have today.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right.  So you oppose the bill that's been passed.  Fair enough?  I mean, you voted against it, right, sir?

MCCONNELL:  You bet.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right.  And you -- I expect that you -- that it will go through the court system to determine whether or not it's ultimately constitutional, right?


VAN SUSTEREN:  All right...

MCCONNELL:  And you're looking at the plaintiff.  And we'll be announcing our legal team in the very near future.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And I look forward to meeting that legal team, sir.  All right, now, let's go to the bill itself.  What is your major objection to the bill in the plainest, simplest terms?

MCCONNELL:  First, the bill makes groups, if they want to comment about candidates within 60 days of an election, to go to the government and register and only do that in hard dollars.  This has been struck...

VAN SUSTEREN:  What's wrong with that?

MCCONNELL:  It's been struck down before.  There have been scores of decisions striking down those kind of provisions in the past.  So that -- that clearly is going to go.  We also believe, with regard to non-federal money, the so-called soft money, there are good 1st, 5th and 10th Amendment claims to be made, and we will make them in court, that you can't constitutionally federalize six national party committees to the exclusion of all else.  I mean, where is equal protection in that?

So we think there are very sound constitutional arguments to be made, certainly against the gag order within 60 days of an election, and also the total elimination -- not capping, but complete elimination -- of non-federal money on the part of the parties.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Senator, why do you think so many of your colleagues voted the other way?  I mean, if you're so certain it is unconstitutional, what is that -- why are your colleagues so certain in the other direction?

MCCONNELL:  Well, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," the two biggest soft money operations in America, ran an editorial on this subject an average of once every five and a half days for the last five years.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Are your -- are your...

MCCONNELL:  And they are the most...

VAN SUSTEREN:  ... colleagues that vulnerable?

MCCONNELL:  Well, they are the...

VAN SUSTEREN:  Are your colleagues that vulnerable?

MCCONNELL:  They are the most vulnerable to "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," which have a bigger voice than anybody else in America and are completely, by the way, unaffected by this bill.  In fact, newspaper advertising is exempt from the 60-day gag order.  So you can't run a radio ad within 60 days of an election, but you can run a newspaper ad.  So the newspapers are the big winners in this.  Not only the editorial pages but also their business managers are going to be excited about this bill.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And what about the president?  Do you expect the president will sign this bill?  and do you think he's happy with it?

MCCONNELL:  Well, regretfully, the president is going to sign the bill.  There is one good feature of the bill, believe it or not.  It does increase the hard money limits set back in 1974, when a Mustang cost $2,700.  And it indexes that for the future.  That's a good part of the bill.  It could be that's why the president's signing it.  I'm sorry he's signing it.  I don't think that makes it good enough, but he's the president, I'm not.  And I'll be going to court, and we'll see how the court feels about it.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And Senator, I hope that after this does get in court that you'll come back and join us and tell us -- give us an update on your legal actions, sir.

MCCONNELL:  Be glad to do it.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right, thank you, Senator.

MCCONNELL:  Thank you.

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