Claremont, NH (CNSNews.com) - Acknowledging that they agreed on virtually nothing else, this season's political odd couple appeared in a late-night televised discussion of campaign finance reform Thursday, promising - sort of - that they would not take so called "soft money."
Arizona Sen. John McCain said under no circumstances would he take soft money if he were his party's nominee, while former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley said his final decision would depend on his GOP opponent.
Bradley said if the GOP nominated Texas Gov. George W. Bush, all bets were off, since Bush has a war chest of about $60 million. "He's flaunted the spending limits," Bradley told ABC's Ted Koppel, host of the 30-minute joint appearance.
The candidates also differed when asked about public financing of campaigns. Bradley said he supports the use of taxpayer dollars and would also mandate television networks to provide free air time six weeks before the election.
"The public airways belong to everyone," Bradley said, a position with which McCain agreed.
However, McCain told the small gathering, "I don't believe in public financing, because I don't think my tax dollars should fund a person's campaign I don't agree with."
McCain's much-discussed temper flared when a pro-life advocate asked the senator how he "justified oppressing the right to free speech," by limiting the right of advocacy groups to run ads in support of candidates and their positions.
At one point in his answer, McCain asked the man "may I have your attention please," and then characterized the question as a "misrepresentation" of his position. McCain insisted his plan would allow advocacy ads, as long as contributors adhered to the limit of $1,000 per person.
"If money is free speech, big interests are sitting in front with a megaphone," a clearly annoyed McCain told the questioner.
The two appeared at the same nursing home where President Clinton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich shook hands two years ago on an agreement to reform the campaign finance system. Although that June 1995 joint appearance was heralded as the first in campaign finance reform, nothing ever came of it.
Asked why the public should believe change might result from this meeting, McCain said, "I don't believe the President was ever serious" about reforming the system.
Bradley responded, "Sen. McCain and I have stated today, if we are the nominees, we won't accept soft money...that doesn't require an act of Congress."