Phil Donahue Show

Senator Paul Wellstone: Phil, let me tell you what I think the real cost is now, as someone who cares about representative democracy. I think everyone in here does. We've got government to the highest bidder. We've got auction block democracy. It's not true that each voter counts for one and only one, that's the way it's supposed to be in a democracy. Money determines who gets to run for office, how people run for office, it determines what people do while in office and the fact of the matter is the vast majority of people are cut out of the loop. There are a lot of good people in public service and they want to do well for people. I'm not going to get into this across the board degradation of public service, but right now the goal is to get the big money out of politics. I think a hundred dollar solution will send...that's the goal. Then we will have a little democracy.

Donahue: Can I just see if we get some agreement here so the audience can chew on this. Do I understand that all of you would agree with the point that it is a good idea to have the money come from the constituency that you serve? [yes] So senator from Ohio should take the vast majority of his contributions from Ohio even though he maybe on judiciary or banking or obviously he's going to be on committees, the business of which transcends the state of Ohio. OK...that's one piece of it but we have to figure out how the lobbyists get their friends in Ohio to contribute. Do we agree here that this is another regulation that requires more enforcement, more fine tuning and more loop holes around which a lot of clever lobbyists could tap dance? Sir, senator?

Senator Paul Wellstone: Let me take it in just a little bit different direction because I think this is a point of disagreement or if you want to wait, we can wait. First, let me speak personally about one thing because I was kind of watching the reaction of the audience. When I ran for Senate in Minnesota in 1990, I was out spent 7 to 1 and the people in Minnesota gave me this honor. But what I found out early one when I went to people to people "heavy hitters" or "big players," words I started to hate, they would ask me, "how much money do you have, do you know the heavy hitters?" They never asked me about content of character, they never asked me about positions on issues, they never asked me what I would do in the senate. So the most serious problem here is the influence of money on politics under cuts representative democracy. I do think that above and beyond some limits a hundred dollars, you do need to move to public financing so for a relatively small amount of money, people in the United States of America can believe that the elections and the capital belongs to them.

Donahue: You already have funding...So, we're publicly going to finance campaigns, so that the candidates can give money to the television stations, which preside over the public airways, which have already sold out. Why should they make a lot of money, taking into their till money that the hard earned tax payer has given to their campaign.

Senator Paul Wellstone: You'd have agreed upon spending limits, you'd have discount vouchers, television would have to play its role in terms of having debates and informing the public and you'd lower the cost of campaigns. And here's the point: for the cost of public financing, you move away from all the S and L wheeling and dealing. You move away from certain people like insurance agencies dominating healthcare policy or utility companies dominating energy policy and you make the Congress accountable to the people. We're talking level playing field, so the challengers have a chance, so that there is a democracy. The only thing I say is that it's not a question about trying to design something alone. I would dearly love to have people in every Congressional district; in every state over the next couple of months have discussions about this because I think people feel very strongly about this

Donahue: We know they do, senator, but I must give myself permission to say this, because forgive me sometimes I take myself to seriously. I'm not sure how much of the outraged Americans, and who's going to argue with their right to be or their reason to be, truly understand how complicated it is to fix this in the land of the free. Come on, you're kidding...Lets see 51-52, you're in this book you know. Just a minute, we're going to talk about you. Senator Paul Wellstone from the cash constituents of Congress, ok. You took 19% of the money you spent to be elected from PAC's, 17% from large individuals, and I'm sure you're entitled to your credit for 53% from small individuals, others 12. Your biggest contributor incidentally was labor. I'd be interested to know how you feel about NAFTA.

Senator Paul Wellstone: Phil, let me respond first. In the Senate race in Minnesota, I think I spent the least amount in recent history, it was a little over a million dollars. After the race, I said this is what I would do, and this is why I am on the show today, what I said is I would pay off my debt and I would raise PAC money to do that after I paid off my debt, which I have done. I do not take PAC money, nor will I take contributions over $100 per person, that's how I raise money. And I'm hoping that by the time I have to run again, we can do something to clean up this government and get big money out because once again I've got to tell you, this will not be a real representative money unless we do it.

Audience comment: Senator, let me put just a different slant on your comment. I'm an outraged American and I can't see the cock eyed logic that Congress has used in passing themselves automatic annual pay raises when no other public servant is allowed to have the same benefit.

Senator Paul Wellstone: I'd like to respond briefly because we may have disagreement. I do agree with you, I voted against it and Sheila and I take the increase and we give it to battered women's shelters in Minnesota. But I don't think that deals with the fundamental, but that's an important point you make, but we still get back to what you're going to do about the influence of money in politics and how we can make our government more responsible to the people.

Donahue: Is the elimination of PACs a reasonable goal?

Senator Paul Wellstone: Yes, if you also deal with also the individual wealthy, high end contributions and you move to some kind of system of public financing, so people who aren't wealthy have a chance to run for office and people can control their own government. Bring campaigns back home.

Donahue: With very little time left, I want to give these folks something to leave with. We've all agreed we want to eliminate PACs, we've all agreed that a $100 limit per individual citizen would be a good idea and we've all agreed, if I'm understanding you, that most of the money should come from the state or precinct that you serve. How am I doing?

Senator Paul Wellstone: You're doing great. The only thing I would add in the early stages, primary stages, you get matching requirement, small contribution. And you also have to have within district or state and you also have to have a system in place for a level playing field. And by the way that book...Still the Best Congress Money can Buy is by a wonderful man Phillip Stern...I highly recommend it.