A Troubling Nexus with Senators Bill Bradley and Alan Simpson speaking at The Commonwealth Club of California.
Two former senators reach across the aisle to take an inside look at the impact of big money on our political system. They discuss how money influences who runs for office, who gets elected and the ability of elected representatives to remain in office, and they explain why they now support public funding of federal elections and the reasons behind their affiliation with Americans for Campaign Reform.
Senator Bill Bradley
William Warren "Bill" Bradley (born July 28, 1943) is an American hall of fame basketball player, Rhodes scholar, and former U.S. Senator from New Jersey.
He also was a a presidential candidate who challenged Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic Party's nomination for President in the 2000 election.
Alan Simpson is a Republican politician who served from 1979 to 1997 as a United States Senator from Wyoming.
Good afternoon and welcome to today's meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California. I am DaveIverson of KQED Public Radio and Television. We welcome all of our listeners on the radio and inviteeveryone to visit us on the internet at www.commonwealthclub.org. It's my pleasure to introduce ourdistinguished speakers today, former Senators Bill Bradley and Alan K. Simpson. I should note that wegot off to an interesting start as we walked into the room today; Senator Bradley was stopped severaltimes to sign basketballs. When Senator Simpson was asked what he should sign he said money. So weare already off to an appropriate beginning.Senator Simpson and Bradley are really here today to examine the impact of big money on our politicalsystem. The discussion that we are going to have will focus on money and its influences on who runsfor office, who gets elected and the ability of elected representatives of course, to stay in office. We aregoing to also explore why both of these Senators now support public funding of Federal Elections andthe reasons they are behind their affiliation with the movement called Americans for CampaignReform. We are going to start out with the introductory comments from each of the Senators, and wewill start with Senator Bill Bradley. He is of course a former All American and Hall of Fame basketballplayer, Rhodes scholar, former US Senator from New Jersey and of course a Presidential candidate inthe year 2000. His most recent book is called The New American Story. Senator Bradley, if you beginwith a few opening comments please.Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure to be back at the Commonwealth Club. I have addressedthis group you know, five or six times and everything from water to taxes. And it is a pleasure to beback today in particular with my friend Alan Simpson who is a politician that I respect and a friend thatI care deeply about. And we are both here because we are concerned about the role of money inpolitics, that's why we are two of the four co-chairs of the Americans for Campaign Reform. And weare here today as a part of that effort.But what qualifies me to talk about money in politics is that I was in politics about 20 years. I was inthe Senate 18 years. A lot of times things happened in the Senate that are important and sometimethings happened that are somewhat funny. And I remember one Senator; I won't mention his State orhis name. He was named by Washingtonian magazine little bit before I got to the Senate, as beingone of the ten dumbest people in Washington. And a week later, against the advice of his staff, hecalled a press conference to deny it. Well and when when you are a Senator, you write laws, youfight for your constituents before the Federal bureaucracy, but you are also a politician which meansyou raise money and you campaign for other candidates. And I remember I was campaigning for acandidate, I hadn't really met him. I was doing party party's work. I met in the morning and when wewere going to the event, I had some biography and I thought I would like to have a conversation withhim may be get a feel, so I could speak more poignantly to his character and his qualifications and hisfuture leadership possibilities. And so, I asked him, I said, tell me, what's your opponent hitting youon? I have been Senator about 13 years at that point and I thought that what ever he said I could helphim parry the attack. And he paused and said, my criminal record.So, I speak with some qualifications here, but the role of money in politics is central to the future of ourdemocracy in my opinion. In 2004 all political campaigns; Congressional, Presidential, spend $4billion on campaigns. When I ran for the Senate in 1978, the first time for my primary and generalelection in New Jersey, it cost $1.3 million. In 2000 the individual who took my place in the senate, four yearsafter I left, spent $62.5 million. That gives you some idea of what has happened in politics in the last 25 or 30 years.And of course where does all this money come from? Well, some of it comes from you know, familyand friends that have known you, some of it comes from people who worked with you in another filedand respect you as a human being. And a lot of it comes from people who are interested in what youwould do if you become the United States Senator or reelected to the United States Senate. And it isthat group that presents the problem, its not the family and friends, because the people who makecontributions with the expectation of some return, may be a access, may be it's a little provision, anamendment in the dead of the night, may be its little money on an earmark, may be its simply a change ofdefinition, but there is an unstated connection between the contributions and the results. I mean BarneyFranks says for example that being a politician or Congress person or a Senator is the only professionin America where you are required to take money from strangers and pretend that you don't owe themanything. And to a certain extend that is true. And so we have had an explosion of contributions fromshall I say interested parties, just as the statistic the number of lobbyists in Washington between 2000and 2006 went from about 16,000 to 34,000, now you do the math, divide 535 people into 34,000, itslike 268 lobbyists per individual representative. And it has been a development that I think hascorroded the political process. It is not by chance I think that the ear marks which are those specialprovisions that are put into appropriations bills by members of Congress, some for your district whichare meritorious, some for interest that are not meritorious in from the period 1996-2006 exploded 873percent. What is happening is that - excuse me with -.Yeah, I am - when Pat - thank you very much for your concern. When Pat Moynihan that was AlanSimpson, for the radio owners when Pat Moynihan was a Senator he said, you know, about 30 yearsago you raise your money from five or six people. They made very large contributions. And everybodyknew they you know, the press, everybody, that's those are the people you got your money from, soyou can actually keep an eye on your record and see if you were doing anything that benefited thosefive or six people. But as Pat went on to say, but now we are obligated to a class of Americans who canafford to contribute sizable amounts of money. And indeed less than one half of one percent of allAmericans have contributed more than $200 to a political campaign.So the result is that lot of times the legislative efforts reflect the money more than the commitment toserve all the people. Bill Moyers who said when well we do have think of three professions, youare baseball player, you slide into home plate and you give the umpire a $1000 before he makes thecall, what would you call that? A bribe, right. Or say you are a lawyer, you make your summationbefore the court and the jury and bribe before the judge renders his verdict, you give them $1000, whatis that called, a bribe, as Moyers says. But if you are a politician you kind of sidle up to somebody in asky box NFL game and they give you $1000, what do you call that, campaign contribution. And thatis the problem and I think that that is why Americans for Campaign Finance Reform is right on targetthat what is needed is to take money out of the political process, break the connection between thelobbyist and the legislator. Now lobbyist can give you information, that's fine, that's fair. But break theconnection with the money going. And the way you do that as you go with Campaign Finance Reformthe Americans for Campaign Finance Reform, that's just 6dollars.org that is, six the number anddollars, the letters, .org is building a grassroots surface around the country on behalf of public financing of election.Why is the term why is it called just6dollars? Because all it would take is 6 dollars from everyAmerican or the equivalent of that to totally fund publicly all Congressmen and Senators elections. It issuch common sense and I think that is why - I have underline common sense that is why that is whyit has attracted Alan Simpson and I, Warren Rudman and Bob Carey Senator Bob Carey, asproponents of this because we have been there, we have seen what happens and we know that there is abetter way to make legislators more responsive to the broad massive Americans and not simply or shallI say disproportionately to those with money. There are specific questions which I think we can get tobut I think the main point here is that I think I see it I think Alan sees it, as a national priority. Godknows if 2004, $4 billion dollars were spent. What's it going to be this year, $8 billion dollars? Whenis the limit? And who makes the contributions and who sets up all the shadow committees and so forth?And there is only one way to come and that is to let the people totally control the process and they dothat through public financing of elections.Senator Bradley, thank you. Again you are listening to the Commonwealth Club of California on theradio. Our speakers today are two former United States Senators, Bill Bradley of New Jersey and AlanSimpson of Wyoming, here to talk about their support for publicly financed campaigns. We nowwelcome former Senator Alan Simpson to make his introductory marks. Senator Simpson served in theUnited States Senate from 1979 to 1997, as a Republican Senator from Wyoming. He was also theRepublican Whip in the US Senate from 1985 to 1996. My favorite quote from Alan Simpson at leastits attributed to him by the way is, if you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't haveintegrity, nothing else matters. Senator Simpson.I said that. But let me say, Dave, thank you. It is a great honor to be here. It's not my first time at theCommonwealth Club. I have been here five times like Bradley but it's idly showed up you know. Andit's a special treat to be here with Bill Bradley. We came to the Senate together and we left the Senatetogether after 18 years. Decision based not on disgust with the process or anything, just that there isanother life to be lived outside of the United States Senate. And I guess our friendship gravitatedbecause of trust and respect which are the coin of the US Senate. There is no other coin there, trust andrespect, doesn't matter what party if you are in. So he is a great fiend and and I played basketball tooat the University of Wyoming and with the cowboys and I was listed in the statistical as others. So theycalled me other Simpson and it was a brutal, painful thing I think of even to this day. And the reasonwe moved our chairs as we realized, that when you are 6'7 or 6'6 you could easily lose all thecirculation in your leg, sitting on that stool, I said my god, I can't even move my knee. So we are atwork here at our new surroundings and we have Dave situated. And I want to answer a question, someleg nailed me out there, just as I came in and I was just flummoxed, I didn't know how to respond. ButI want to respond right now to him. And the answer is, yes, I did sleep in this suite. I hope that will take care of that.Where I came into this game, I was privileged to be the Assistant Majority Leader of the Senate whenBob Dole was elected to the Majority Leader post, Bill and I had been there six years, and there were20 of us that came into the US Senate at the same time, it was the largest class in the history of theSenate, I believe historically. Eleven Republicans and nine Democrats and you know their names. Bill,myself, Nancy Kassebaum, John Warner, Carl Levin, Jim Exon, Dave Pryor wonderful group ofThad Cochran, did I mention wonderful group of people and we used to meet once a month to talkand and Howard Baker was the leader of the Republicans and Robert Byrd and they said, well whatyou are talking about? We said, well, how to answer the mail, how to avoid your staff. Things that arecritical in life in Washington. I want to warn people too about staff depravation. It's very serious thing.Staff depravation and I had been out of Senate a year and my wife, charming lady who knows andshe said, Alan, your staff is gone. You have no staff, they are not here and I am not one of your staff.So I had to get that out of the way. Now, so as Assistant Leader of the Senate and Bob Dole the leaderand George Mitchell on the other side for the time and Robert Byrd, I can't tell you the nights and thedays, and Robert Byrd worked at Senate in the night. He that was what he did. That was his life; it'sstill his life, he is an amazing man. He is he is the heartbeat of the US Senate and even with hisserious health problems, Robert Byrd, amazing amazing man. So he liked to keep us there at nightand then Dole thought, well I should continue that. But what happened was during the afternoon theywould come up, they being Democrat and Republican saying and I hope that you hold over any votesfor tonight because I can be here tomorrow at 10, but please hold the vote and Bob will say, what for?Well, I have to be at a fund raiser in Detroit, I have to be at a fund raiser in Cleveland, I have got to flyto San Francisco. They have got it arranged and let me tell you I remember Bob got up one eveningand he said, I thought you people were paid to work and we are working here and I am not going tohold up votes anymore so you can just run around America and gather up money and that's what wedid and that's what they are doing now with Seven-league boots. I don't think there is any legislatingevent going on with the money they have to raise. And I will tell you what it cuts into; it cuts into thework product. You cannot if it's deeper than than the perception of morality or greed or perceptionsof corruption, the real issue you cant do your work because the Republicans are coming to town, theeagles have landed, that is $25,000. I don't what the Democrats landed, with condors or whatever butwhat did they bring 25 grand to pop in there?And so they would say they are coming. And you have to get on the phone and call - go over theRepublican Party headquarters, couldn't do it from your office, that was a court cleared idea which wasviolated continually, go to little cubicle, so you could raise money and you go in there and take likeselling stock in a bucket shop. And you are on the phone dialing people for money. And meanwhileyour bill is in Committee the next day, but you are not working on it. You will not pay any attention;your staff is working on it. I can't tell you. It was a most frustrating thing, so finally said I am notmaking any calls for the Presidents dinner, to hell with it. Well what are you going to do, I said I willcome and speak to their group, at their lunch you gather them up and I will come in there and saysomething at evening or reception. So that's what I did and I just refused, refused to do it and I found itdemeaning. It disrupt - I am a legislature I could not be an executive of anything. I couldn't administermy way out of a paper sack. So Governor, President those things meant nothing to me but legislatingmeant a lot to me and and, you know, I was rather successful at it until it disrupted the Senate, itdisrupted the work flow, it was a it was, just didn't look right. I think Fritz Mondale said it best well,it maybe illegal but it looks like hell and that's what it is. And so we are working on this issue, it's a start.People have all sorts of sharp shooting ideas, I know you have some, and they will say publicfinancing, my god tax payers money that paid for those son - I know you have that and you have that inyour head somewhere, roosting in the back of your cranium, is that question but I will tell you againyou don't want anymore of this system. There are 64 billion in earmarks and I will bet you 75 percentof them, were things that came from a campaign contribution that never went through the authorizationprocess, never went through the appropriations process but when it came midnight at thelast night of the session you got the call from the guy that maxed out. He maxed out on you, heand his wife both maxed out and that gave you the whole load in the primary, it gave you the wholeload and the general and they are on the phone. Hey Alan you know I have a little tariff there, it's not atax Al, it's just a tariff. I knew well I flunked that course. I said it seems like they are kind of alike. Oh!No you don't understand, you you just don't get it. And so there they are making their final push.And you stick it in there and I get the I get the new fence for the (oak refuge) [0:22:24] and Kennedygets the new witches museum contribution. I was perfectly happy with that switch. I said take yourwitches museum Ted, you think and give me the give me the fence around the oak refuge. And it'sfunny but it ain't funny and all - but that didn't come from campaign contribution. I am talking aboutthe people who called for a change in the internal revenue code, a change here or something, somethingthat has to do but any way I think I would just say it to you, remember the hearings they had aboutthe guy who - had him under oath and they asked him well he had been, why he gave $300,000 throughvarious court, legal sources to the campaign for the Presidency and he just laughed. He said what thehell do you think? Access there is no other purpose, that I would give 300,000 bucks to these jerks.It's just access and I got it I was in the White House all the time.You can get any any where in the White House for 300,000 bucks under either party. So any way wehave this ensuing exercise, it's not perfect. But it's a start, it's like getting the horse on the track andthen next year we will get the blanket over it. And then we will throw a saddle on it and in about sixyears we will put a jockey in the middle of it. And at least it will give a start and John Rowe has been asplendid Chairman of the Board there. And we were ready to go because all four of us are very dearfriends and we have all taken a ton of crap, so there isn't anything more you can throw.