WASHINGTON - Republicans and Democrats fought with competing videotapes at a Senate hearing Wednesday, each party accusing the other of ignoring campaign spending limits and raising money at the White House.
Tapes of President Clinton and former President Reagan were played before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee - allowing panel members to duel before any witnesses were called.
"No one ... had such a sleazy operation" as Clinton's fund-raising effort, said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., after viewing the tapes. "I think there was a conspiracy to evade the campaign laws."
Sen. John Glenn of Ohio, ranking Democrat on the committee, said fund-raising events at the White House "have been there for a long time" and have been conducted by both parties. "Was it wrong to say thank you to supporters in the White House?" Glenn asked.
Committee Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., said that after seeing the Clinton tapes, he had decided to send Attorney General Janet Reno a memo asserting the president had not complied with fund-raising laws. The White House has said the president acted legally at all times, and the way to fix any problems is for Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation now stalled in the Senate.
Republicans said the tapes demonstrated that Clinton skirted campaign spending limits, met with shadowy characters connected to foreign contributions and raised political money at the White House despite a prohibition on soliciting campaign funds on federal property. The tapes have been seen on television over the past several weeks after the White House found them and turned them over to Congress - six months after any such material was sought.
Democrats countered with tapes showing Reagan asking donors for money at the White House. They also furnished a transcript indicating that former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential candidate, had the same view of issue-oriented television ads as Clinton - that they should not be counted against spending ceilings.
Thompson said that Clinton evaded spending limits by using nearly $45 million in issue-based ads to help his campaign. The ceiling is put in place when a candidate accepts public campaign funding. In 1996, the maximum was $37 million per candidate for the primary and $62 million for the general election.
In a Dec. 7, 1995, tape, Clinton tells donors, "We realized we could run these ads through the Democratic Party, which meant we could raise money in $20,000 and $50,000 and $100,000 blocks. So we didn't have to do it all in $1,000 and run down what I can spend, which is limited by law."
Dole, in a television interview in June 1996, said: "We can, through the Republican National Committee, through what we call the Victory '96 program, run television ads and other advertising. It's called generic. And then come August, we'll have about $72 million, as will the president."
Thompson said Clinton and his advisers had "total control" over the ads focused on issues. "Magically, they found their way to have their cake and eat it, too," he said. "They were able to come up with a legal opinion by someone who worked for them" that the ads did not have to be counted.
Several Democrats pointed out Dole's televised comments were in response to a biographical ad about his career, and contended he had just as much control over its contents as Clinton did with Democratic ads.
None of the ads specifically asked voters to support or defeat a particular candidate.
In the Reagan tapes, made when he was president, he tells donors: "Let me ask you now - I know this is silly - can I count on you to help?" When there was applause, Reagan said, "I thought that might be your answer."
Reagan asked supporters on another tape to go beyond their previous help and "redouble your efforts."
By The Associated Press
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