07/09/97 - 11:56 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Excerpts from chairman's opening statement

Excerpts from Sen. Fred Thompson's opening statement at the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearings into campaign finance abuse:

The committee believes that high-level Chinese government officials crafted a plan to increase China's influence over the U.S. political process. The committee has identified specific steps taken in furtherance of the plan. Implementation of the plan has been handled by Chinese government officials and individuals enlisted to assist in the effort. Activities in the furtherance of the plan have occurred both inside and outside of the United States. Our investigations suggest that the plan continues today.

Although most discussion of the plan focuses on Congress, our investigations suggest it affected the 1996 presidential race and state elections as well. The government of China is believed to have allocated substantial sums of money to achieve its objectives.

Another aspect of the plan is remarkable because it shows that the PRC is interested in developing long-term relationships with persons it has identified as up-and-coming government - up-and-coming officials at state and local levels. The intent is to establish relations that can be cultivated as the officials rise through the ranks to higher office.

I think it's important for us to remember what these hearings are and what they are not. They are not trials where people are prosecuted, they are not soap operas that are designed to titillate, and they are not athletic events where we keep a running score. Rather, these hearings are serious looks at how our government is working, how our government is operating. And it's designed, at the end, toward seeing if we can't make our system, make our government work even better.

Now, the allegations before us are extremely serious. They include: illegal foreign contributions and other illegal foreign involvement in our political process; money laundering, influence peddling; violations of the Hatch Act, which prevents fund raising on government time and government property; violations of the Ethics in Government Act; violations of the conflict of interest laws; improper use of the White House in fund-raising activities, and questions of whether our government's domestic and foreign policy was affected by political contributions.

Now, these matters go to the basic integrity of our government and our electoral process, and these matters will constitute the first phase of our hearings. There apparently was a systematic influx of illegal money in our presidential race last year. We will be wanting to know who knew about it, who should have known about it, and whether or not there was an attempt to cover it up.

Now, these hearings come at a time in this nation of economic prosperity, but they also come at a time when the American people are increasingly cynical about their government. We have less than half of our people voting now. I believe that part of this is due to what has happened to our political process, as evidenced by the matters that this committee will be considering. The American people see their leaders go to greater and greater extreme to raise unprecedented amounts of money to fund their political campaigns. Power is at stake, and the ends justify the means. And I believe that this thirst for increasing amounts of political money, and what people are willing to do to get it, lie at the heart of this investigation.

This committee demonstrated early on its commitment to fairness, something I'm very proud of. This committee unanimously voted to have a scope that would allow us to look at Democrat and Republican activities alike, where appropriate. Now, if the American people see us honestly trying to get the facts in a professional manner, treating each other and treating our witnesses with dignity and courtesy, I believe that it will enhance the status of this institution.

More importantly, I think that we'll enhance our government in the eyes of the American people at a time when our government sorely needs it. That's our opportunity, and that's our obligation.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.