Analysts Debate Gore Proposal While GOP Blasts VP's Credibility

July 7, 2008 - 8:25 PM

( - Political analysts and lobbyist groups are scrambling to digest the contents of Vice President's Al Gore's campaign finance proposal, which calls for voluntary funding of campaigns from a public endowment, while Republicans have charged that his proposal is merely a gambit to deflect attention from the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign's possible violations of fundraising laws.

Seeking to counteract Republican nominee George W. Bush's increasingly strong denunciations of his campaign fundraising record, Vice President Al Gore today unveiled a campaign finance reform package calling for creation of campaign funding endowment, an end to soft money, and strict disclosure rules.

Gore, in a speech Monday at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, called for the creation of $7.1 billion "Democracy Endowment" to pay for House and Senate campaigns, new disclosure rules for lobbyists and advocacy groups that run political ads, and mandatory free rebuttal air time for candidates targeted by such third-party ads.

The plan seeks to "break the link between money and political influence," Gore said in Milwaukee.

According to Gore, the Democracy Endowment would be built through tax-deductible private donations. Candidates receiving funds from the endowment would not be able to accept money from other private sources.

The Gore campaign estimates lost revenue from the tax-exempt status of the fund at $2.1 billion over seven years.

The proposal also requires lobbyist to post lobbying contacts, topics discussed and contributions made monthly on the Internet, and would require tax-exempt organization to disclose their donor lists.

"You've got to give [Gore] credit for coming up with something new," said Larry Makinson, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group in Washington, D.C., that tracks money in politics. "[The Democracy Endowment] part of the idea is intriguing. . . . It would remove the political IOU that large contributions carry with them."

Still, Makinson emphasized, "all of this really speculative since we don't really have details at this point, and I suspect that there really aren't any details to be had right now."

However, said Ron Nehring, national campaigns director of American for Tex Reform, the details that have emerged indicate that many of Gore's proposals would run into constitutional problems.

"The best campaign finance reform is the First Amendment," said Nehring.

According to Nehring, Gore's proposal to require tax-exempt political organizations to reveal their donor lists is unconstitutional under the Supreme Court decision Buckley v. Valeo, which prohibits the government from regulating political contributions and speech that do not directly endorse a specific candidate.

And Nehring added that the Democracy Endowment is a "clear first step toward public financing of campaigns."

"Once this is in place, the next step is to require candidates to be funded from this endowment, and then to fund it through compulsory taxpayer contributions," said Nehring.

Gore's proposal is a preemptive strike against criticism of his record of campaign fundraising, which includes potential ethical lapses involving fundraising calls made on government property and solicitation of funds from Chinese foreign nationals.

Bush released a statement Monday saying that Gore's proposal would do "to campaigns what the Clinton-Gore Administration tried to do to healthcare. It's a taxpayer financed government takeover of campaigns that replaces individual spending decisions with decisions made by an unelected government committee."

Bush also continued his attacks on Gore's record on campaign fundraising, saying that "any promise to reform our campaign finance system will ring hollow unless it is grounded in credibility - credibility based on consistency, integrity and disclosure. We need an Attorney General, a President and a Vice President who will live by and enforce the laws we currently have on the books."

Bush called on Gore to stop "withholding information about his own fund raising excesses."

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who made campaign finance reform a centerpiece of his presidential bid, said that portions of the vice president's proposal "merit serious consideration," but added that "to convince a skeptical public that his efforts are sincere and not an election year conversion, the vice president needs to back his words with meaningful bipartisan action."

McCain also called for "a complete and open investigation of 1996 campaign finance irregularities."

In his speech, Gore said he knew he was "an imperfect messenger for this cause, but the real wounds will be to our democracy itself unless we address this problem."