More headlines: Al Gore on Government Reform

(Following are older quotations. Click here for main quotations.)

Gore as reporter uncovered City Hall zoning scandal

[In 1974 while Gore was a reporter at the Tenneseean], real estate developer Gilbert Cohen complained about his difficulty in securing a [zoning permit] in the district represented by Morris Haddox. Cohen thought he was merely prodding Gore into a story on city council inefficiency. Gore told him he was onto something bigger.

The Tennesseean set up a joint sting operation with the district attorney. Cohen agreed to be wired for sound and met Haddox, with Gore parked just out of view. Cohen asked what it would take to pass the permit. “It’ll take a grand to get it done,” said Haddox. The Tennesseean had a councilman cold, on audiotape & film, taking a bribe.

What looked to be a slam dunk ended in bitter defeat for Gore & his paper when the Haddox case went to trial. It ended in a mistrial, the jury deadlocked 8-3 in favor of conviction, with one member undecided. Like his father’s defeat, the case was more painful evidence that righteousness did not guarantee victory.

Source: Inventing Al Gore, p.107-10 Mar 3, 2000

Fundraising from White House? Maybe. Candor & caution? No.

In 1995, Gore phoned 52 potential Democrat donors, securing nearly $800,000 in commitments. Gore placed the calls from his White House office, putting him at odds with an 1882 law that barred federal employees from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions in a federal building. The Pendleton Act was a relic, but it was still observed by members of Congress, who routinely left their offices to make fund-raising calls from other locations.

It was not clear whether Pendleton applied to the vice president. But what was clear was that his usually circumspect instincts had been flattened by the money hunt.

No court case had ever determined the legality of a situation like Gore’s; thus Gore concluded there was “no controlling legal authority” that barred Gore from making the calls in his office. Gore also announced that while he had done nothing wrong, he would never do it again.

Source: Inventing Al Gore, p.298-9 & p.323-4 Mar 3, 2000

Justices should view Constitution as “living & breathing”

Q: Where do you rank affirmative action when it comes to any one you might have the chance to nominate to sit on the Supreme Court? A: The next president is likely to appoint at least 3 justices of the Supreme Court. And the majority on the court that will determine our policies for the next 30 to 40 years will be appointed by the next president. If you entrust me with the presidency, I will appoint justices to that court who understand and reflect in their decisions the philosophy that our Constitution is a living and breathing document. Affirmative action is one of the tools that we still need to have available to us to remove the barriers of discrimination and open up opportunity for all through economic empowerment, through the best education system in the world, through universal health care, through an end to poverty in this country and through a Supreme Court that will honor our Constitution’s deepest values and the deepest meaning of the American spirit.
Source: Democrat Debate in Des Moines, Iowa Jan 17, 2000

Presidents must focus on many things at once

[We should not] “address only one thing at a time, or only a very small number of things at a time.. The promise of America,” Gore said, “means more than a single proposal, done in the wrong way, at a price that leaves us helpless to take on other great national priorities.” Gore added: “Can you imagine John Kennedy saying, ‘We have to fight the cold war; we can’t explore the heavens or put a man on the moon?’ He knew we could do more.” Gore said: “I disagreed with former President Reagan’s leadership style, because while he focused single-mindedly on tax cuts for the wealthy and reducing the size of government, he let a lot of things slide. Our debt quadrupled. Working people became worse off. Real wages declined. Our country was worse off as a result because while he was focused on that one thing, he and his advisers were not paying attention to all of the other challenges.”
Source: NY Times, p. A14, on 2000 election Jan 4, 2000

First Lady would work on mental health & homelessness issues

Q: What kind of a first lady would your wife be? A: Tipper has really worked on the issue of mental health care. She organized and chaired the first ever White House conference on mental health care. She has a graduate degree in psychology, and has a continuing passion about trying to bring parity in the treatment of mental illnesses, as compared to other kinds of illnesses. And I share that. The other issue that she spends a lot of time on, is the plight of the homeless.
Source: Town Hall Meeting, Nashua NH Dec 18, 1999

My clout and experience will persuade Lott and Congress

Q: How will you get your programs passed by Trent Lott and Congress? A: I served eight years in the House of Representatives and eight years in the Senate. I’ve got close friendships on both sides of the aisle. I happen to think there’s an excellent chance we might see a change in the control of the House. But in explaining to the Congress why this can be done quickly and well, we have to fit it in with the economy.
Source: Town Hall Meeting, Nashua NH Dec 18, 1999

Big Government comes from Congress; agencies; & lawyers

    We all want clean air and water. We want workplaces that don’t injure us. We want our savings protected. And much more. That’s why we have laws. The real problem is what happens after the laws are passed. Actually, there are four problems:
  1. Congress passes laws, but seldom repeals them-whether or not they’re relevant anymore, whether or not they work.
  2. After laws are passed, agencies produce regulations describing how they will achieve the law’s intent. But between Congress’ vagueness and agencies’ mania for covering every eventuality, the result has been regulatory overflow: 130,000 pages in 202 volumes.
  3. After regulations are approved, legions of lawyers seek out and find loopholes in them.
  4. Agency employee are duty-bound to enforce regulations once they’re approved. That’s their job. Common-sense interpretation is expressly forbidden.
It’s said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. There may be no better illustration than the US federal government.
Source: Common Sense Government, p. 27 & 45-6 Sep 7, 1995

Congressional inaction results in unnecessary programs

Take the tea-taster... please. In 1897, Congress passed the Import Tea Act, creating the Board of Tea Experts and an official federal tea-taster. Now, fast-forward to 1995. We still have a tea-taster and a tea-tasting room. No one questions the skill of the current tea-taster. The question is why the federal government is still spending $120,000 a year to support an activity that the tea industry is already supporting itself.

The National Performance Review featured the Federal Tea Room in its first report in 1993. The Clinton Administration proposed eliminating it last year. Some members of Congress argued forcefully to get rid of it. It’s still there. The tea industry itself has recommended that the government charge fees to cover the cost of the service. Congress simply will not act on it. The tea-taster tastes on.

It’s not a lot of money. It’s the principle of the thing. How can we continue to support a tea-taster? Or any other outdated or unnecessary program? The answer is, we can’t.

Source: Common Sense Government, p.119 Sep 7, 1995

Politicians address immediate problems, not long-term ones

One reason many world leaders have difficulty responding to the environmental crisis is that the worst of the predicted effects seems decades away [while] millions of people are suffering in poverty right now. These are urgent problems. how do we at the same time acknowledge and confront a problem that seems to lie in our future?
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 46 Jul 2, 1993

Our leaders are ignoring the threat to the environment

Even after highly publicized warnings from virtually the entire global scientific community that the current pattern of our civilization is creating dramatic changes in global climate patterns. we are doing nothing to address the principal causes of this catastrophe in the making. We know from the history of climate changes that they can cause unprecedented social and political upheavals, especially in fragile, densely populated societies.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 77 Jul 2, 1993

Polls and technology dominate politics, not substance

Aside from its uninspired response to the environmental crisis, our political system itself has now been exploited, manhandled, and abused to the point that we are no longer making consistently intelligent choices about our course as a nation. Thirty-second television commercials and sophisticated public opinion polling can now do more to manipulate the opinions of voters in two weeks than all the speeches and debates and political organizations together can accomplish in ten years.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 167 Jul 2, 1993

Put government services on-line.

An important new part of Reinventing Government is Al Gore’s “Access America” initiative -- to put important government services on-line. Its goal is to bring electronic options to all who want them, including those in underserved and rural areas. The initiative has already begun with pilot programs for: student loans, Medicare and pension plan information, and electronic fingerprint checks and criminal records checks.
Source: 5/14/99 May 14, 1999

$7.1B Democracy Endowment for publicly financed campaigns

Gore called his plan-known as the “Democracy Endowment” fund-a “non-partisan endowment for our common democracy” that would be accessible to every qualified congressional and presidential candidate who agreed to accept no other donations. The ambitious, $7.1 billion plan would take effect in 2008 and rely on 100% tax-deductible donations to create a public-private endowment. Managed by a board of trustees chosen by the president and approved by the Senate, the fund would be closed after seven years.
Source: AllPolitics Mar 27, 2000

Hold the banner higher; overcome cynicism on campaign reform

[I ask anyone] who has felt cynicism and disaffection, disillusionment, disappointment, in the way our democracy works, to join in this effort to do it in a fundamentally new way, to talk in depth about the choices we have to make, lay out the costs and the options and the benefits and tell it like it is. I think we have an opportunity if we will all put our shoulders to the wheel, to really change our democracy for ever. A presidential campaign is a chance to really define who we are as a people. And a president who follows what the people are saying in your hearts can make all the difference. The American people have lifted up this issue of reform. I didn’t do it. John McCain and Bill Bradley got a wonderful response because the people heard that in their message. I talked about this in the primaries. But I want to hold the banner higher still because the American people have insisted that this agenda be front and center.
Source: Remarks in Tallahassee Mar 15, 2000

Offers soft-money ban to Bush; Gore won’t allow first ads

GORE [to Bush]: I challenge you to reject the use of soft money to run issue ads. I will take the first step by requesting the DNC not to run any issue ads paid for by soft money unless and until the Republican Party uses money for advertising. Thus, it’s up to you and your party whether you want to start the ad war arms race; you have the power to join me in banning soft money. If you are willing to do the right thing, we can change politics forever.

BUSH: Restoring trust in our electoral process. is the heart of the matter. New campaign finance laws are needed. What is even more important is the duty of public officials to obey the existing laws, and I’m afraid your own record does not inspire confidence. In your note, you did not mention the matter of compulsory union dues being used to support political candidates -- a violation of worker rights. Your silence was not encouraging, because any campaign finance reform must be broad and fair.

Source: E-mail exchange between the candidates Mar 14, 2000

Past fundraising mistakes converted him to campaign reformer

Q: What specifically were your mistakes regarding campaign finance?
A: The ‘96 campaign, where both parties pushed the limits. I made a mistake going to that Buddhist temple. I made a mistake in making telephone calls from my office.
Q: Do you have any credibility on this issue? The Republicans are already raising your “no controlling legal authority.”
A: I have acknowledged my mistakes, I have learned from my mistakes. I have a passion for campaign-finance reform that is fueled in part because of the pain of those mistakes.
Q: You’re talking with the passion of a convert and usually a convert has had some kind of epiphany that prompts the conversion.
A: I had a passion for this before, but the passion became stronger in the wake of the ‘96 campaign. I don’t want to see any other campaigns conducted like that.
Q: What is the “pain” that you felt?
A: Making mistakes and acknowledging them. When you acknowledge a mistake, that is an opportunity for learning and growth.
Source: Press interview on Air Force II Mar 11, 2000

Mistakes: soft money; attack ads; private campaign money

I have learned from my mistakes. [Bush] has not given me any evidence that he has learned from his mistakes. I think it’s a mistake to be against banning soft money. I think it’s a mistake to allow billionaires to funnel special-interest, secretly unded attack ads into the last days of the primary election and embrace the message of those so-called independent expenditures. I think it’s a mistake to bust out of the traditional campaign finance law and raise $70 million with more to come.
Source: Press interview on Air Force II Mar 11, 2000

Buddhist temple fundraiser: overzealous but probably legal

Three weeks before election day in 1996, Gore attended a fund-raiser at the His Lai Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles. The event raised $140,000, despite federal laws that prohibit holding partisan political events at institutions with tax-exempt status. Some of the temple’s nuns and monks, who had taken vows of poverty, admitted to serving as illegal “straw” donors, writing checks for up to $5,000 and receiving immediate reimbursement from temple officials.

“I did not know it was a fund-raiser,” Gore said in 1997, contending that he believed he was attending a goodwill event. Some details support that contention: after lunch, he delivered a standard stump speech praising racial and ethnic diversity. There were none of the usual thank-yous he offered to groups of contributors for their financial support.

Exactly what Gore knew may never be completely clear. But the episode suggests that Gore’s zeal for election money in 1996 eroded his judgment, sense of propriety, and usual attention to detail.

Source: Inventing Al Gore, p.313-4 & p.319-22 Mar 3, 2000

Public financing of elections and debates lead to trust

Q: What would you do to restore the public trust in government? A: I think that we need campaign finance reform in order to restore a sense of trust and integrity in our government, and that’s why I’ve supported, for 20 years, full public financing of elections. That’s why I don’t accept any PAC contributions. And that’s why I have suggested that we have twice-weekly debates, and instead of depending on these 30-second television ads and 60-second television ads, let’s depend on debates like this one.
Source: Democrat Debate in Johnston Iowa Jan 8, 2000

Campaign reform: full public financing, no soft money

Q: What is your position on campaign reform? A: I think that the Democratic National Committee in the 1996 campaign pressed the limits. And I think that the phone calls that I made were a mistake. [We should] ultimately have a system of full public financing. We ought to eliminate the soft money that causes the problems. The single most effective immediate reform [would be] to agree to eliminate the majority of the money that goes for these 30-second TV & radio ads and just debate twice a week.
Source: Democratic Debate in Durham, NH Jan 5, 2000

Public campaign financing, open candidates’ tax returns

I think campaign finance reform ought to be passed. I think all candidates ought to be open, give out their income tax returns, and sources of income. I favor public financing of elections. I favor the McCain-Feingold bill. I don’t accept any PAC money. I strictly abide by the $1,000 limit, and I have the smallest average contribution in the race.
Source: Democrat Debate at Dartmouth College Oct 28, 1999

Supports campaign finance reform; has refused PAC money

I strongly support campaign finance reform. I was a sponsor of tough reform proposals in the House and in the Senate. I refused to accept PAC money - political action committee money - and I have supported the main bipartisan reform bill now pending. If you entrust me with the presidency, I will move heaven and earth to bring about meaningful campaign finance reform.
Source: ‘On-Line Chat Transcript’ Jun 17, 1999

Reinvention cut Defense while investing in social programs

BRADLEY [to Gore]: We have tremendous economic growth driven by technological change and globalization, innovation, entrepreneurship in the private sector. That is producing this tremendous surplus. That means we can do more to try to help community colleges. I’ve proposed a way to do that-$2 billion for community colleges-because that’s where people learn more so that they can earn more for a lifetime. Al wants to spend $127 billion on defense increases and wants to spend less than that for education.

GORE: I’ve presided over the so-called reinventing government program to downsize our federal bureaucracy, including, more than any other, the Pentagon and the Defense Department. But even as we’ve kept our military strong, we’ve turned the biggest deficits into the biggest surpluses in history. Now we have an opportunity to invest in education & human services. And if you work in the field of human services, you know how important Medicaid is to the people who receive those human services.

Source: Democrat Debate in Johnston Iowa Jan 8, 2000

Reinventing Government cuts waste and inefficiency.

As a Congressman and Senator, Gore supported spending cuts and strong measures to reduce the deficit. And today’s balanced budget would not have been possible without Al Gore’s aggressive effort to cut government waste and inefficiency through the Reinventing Government initiative, eliminating scores of needless government programs, outdated regulations, and billions of dollars in wasteful spending.
Source: (Cross-ref from Budget & Economy) Jun 14, 1999

Four core principles of Reinventing Government

During his first few months as Vice President. Gore [brought] the best new management techniques from private industry, to make government smaller, smarter, and more responsive. - as well as setting an example of fiscal responsibility and emphasizing results instead of bureaucracy. The core principles of Reinvention are: -- Putting customers (the American taxpayers) first; -- Cutting red tape; -- Empowering employees to get results; -- Cutting government back to basics.
Source: 5/14/99 May 14, 1999

Top-down reform fails; ReGo asks the people involved

If you want to make a real change, you have to engage the people most likely to be affected-the ones who are already involved & who have the most at stake in getting the job done right. You have to seek their advice & give them the power to fix what they know needs fixing.

Most earlier attempts to reform the federal government went nowhere because they were done backwards: from the top down instead of the bottom up. They didn’t ask for ideas from the American public-or from the government’s own front-line workers. Most often, the efforts consisted of studies led by outsiders with no real stakes in the results.

As frustration with the federal government has mounted, some people, including many in Congress, have decided that the way to fix government is just to eliminate as much of it as possible. That might help bring the budget into line-or it might do no more than shift around a lot of organizational “boxes.” Much of the government would then simply continue operating as it always had.

Source: Common Sense Government, p. 3 & 6 Sep 7, 1995

Reinvention is an ongoing process that’s never finished

They said it couldn’t be done. and it isn’t. Reinventing the federal government isn’t an event. It isn’t an Act of Congress or a Presidential Executive Order. Nor is it something you can accomplish with a swing of a budget axe.

This effort to reinvent government is becoming a way of life for employees in agencies and customers they serve across the nation. It’s like the job of painting the Golden Gate Bridge: the task is so huge that by the time the painters get to the far end of the bridge, it’s time to go back to the beginning and start again. It never stops. It’s never “finished.”

The world has become more complex, and so has our government. Along the way, the government has, occasionally, lost touch with what it was created to do nearly 220 years ago. Our nation began with a solemn covenant: that the government that we were establishing would be the people’s servant-not their master. We need to renew that covenant for the next century. That’s what reinventing government is all about.

Source: Common Sense Government, p. 14-7 Sep 7, 1995

ReGo: “Working better and costing less”

    The Code of Federal Regulations, the government’s rulebook, is a lot like your uncle’s garage: crammed to the rafters with all sorts of stuff that’s been there for who knows how long. There’s stuff of great value there. There’s stuff you don’t need anymore. And there’s stuff you can’t imagine ever having needed. In 1995, we sent the federal regulatory agencies to clean up Uncle Sam’s garage. In 14 weeks, they came up with 16,000 pages of regulations to haul out to the curb. There’s still more, further back in the shadows, that the haven’t gotten to yet. It’s a very big garage. The instructions to the clean-up crew were simple:
  1. Cut obsolete regulations and fix the rest. Figure out how goals can be achieved in more efficient and less intrusive ways.
  2. Reward results, not red tape. Change how you measure performance so that you focus on results, not process and punishment.
  3. Get out of Washington: talk to your front-line employees and customers.
  4. Negotiate, don’t dictate.
Source: Common Sense Government, p. 56-7 Sep 7, 1995

ReGo: more measurement; accountability; & competition