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Burden of Proof

Supreme Court Reaffirms Campaign Finance Limits; Inside the Iowa Caucuses

Aired January 24, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The mystery of the Iowa caucus is a little bit like mystery of the College of Cardinals, right. You don't quite know how that decision is made.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I am worried about is the people in Iowa taking the election for granted. When you walk into a hall, and there are over 700 people in Waterloo, it makes you feel pretty good, but we still got a lot of work to do.

VICE PRESIDENT ALBERT GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to fight for you and the future of America. I need you to fight for me. I need you to got to the caucuses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: The Iowa caucuses: how the party electorate records its vote; the steps Democrats and Republicans take to shield against voter fraud; and how today's votes will shape campaign 2000 and the laws of our land.

Plus, today, the United States Supreme Court decides an important campaign finance case. Will the high court prevent elections from being put up for sale?

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to a special edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

We're broadcasting today live from Des Moines, Iowa, where presidential candidates will take their first test in the race for the White House. But across the country, in Washington D.C., the United States Supreme Court delivered an important ruling on campaign finance law. In a 6-3 ruling, the high court has reversed an appeals court decision on Missouri's fund-raising limits and reaffirmed the power of individual states to place a cap on campaign contributions.

When the case was argued before the court last fall, Justice Souter told petitioners, quote: "Most people assume that someone making an extraordinarily large contribution is going to get something extraordinary in return."

The law was defended by Missouri's state Attorney General Jay Nixon, who argued that ending or weakening campaign contribution limits would lead most Americans, quote, "to believe that their government is literally for sale."

Joining us today here in Des Moines are Rob Tully, who is the state chair for the Iowa Democratic Party; Richard Johnson, the state auditor for the Republican Party; and law professor Larry Pope. And also joining us from our Washington bureau is CNN senior correspondent Charles Bierbauer.

Charles, what did the United States Supreme Court do today?

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: The court ruled in the Missouri case, as you indicated, that the limitation on campaign contributions, which is embodied in a landmark decision of 1976 called Buckley versus Valeo, is absolutely a good law for the state of Missouri or any other state as it is for the federal government, saying that Missouri could put a limit on campaign contributions.

And it was Justice Souter, the same Justice Souter you referred to as being so troubled by the potential of corruption in campaign financing, that he wrote, citing Buckley, the landmark decision, as demonstrating that the dangers of large corrupt contributions and the suspicion that large contributions are corrupt are neither novel, nor implausible. In other words, he saw good merit in having such a law, and this will reinstate the Missouri law and send a strong signal to every other state that they could have such a limitation, but it also underscores the fact that this court, by a 6-3 margin, feels that its original decision on campaign contributions was absolutely correct. And that decision said that you could limit contributions, but you could not limit campaign spending.

I would point out that three of the justices, Justice Kennedy, Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia, dissented, saying that the earlier decision ought to be reexamined. And one justice, Justice Breyer, who supported this ruling said: But what if I'm wrong? Maybe we should reexamine it. But he still stayed with the majority in this case.

This is kind of a boost too, I would suggest, for Senator John McCain's effort to reform campaign finance. Although this law, and the earlier ruling, do not address soft money. Greta?

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Larry, you teach constitutional law here in Iowa. How significant an opinion is this?

LARRY POPE, LAW PROFESSOR: By the way, this was good timing of you, Greta, to get this decision out today.

VAN SUSTEREN: We worked on it, Larry.

POPE: I think this is a significant decision because campaign finance has been an issue in this campaign. It's an issue across the country and, while the federal government has put some limits on campaign contributions, state would like to do the same. And so this gives states clear permission to put limits on campaign contributions.

Now what Charles Bierbauer said, it doesn't limit expenditures. And so people can still spend money, but it does put reasonable limits on the contributions that can be provided.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, are there limitations here in the state of Iowa?

RICHARD JOHNSON, REPUBLICAN STATE AUDITOR: We don't have dollar limitations on state candidates, and I think this is one thing that we should have. Disclosure is very tight in Iowa, and from the standpoint of where the money comes from. I have the opportunity to serve as Senator Grassley's campaign treasurer. And in that, I have a pretty close knowledge of what the Senate campaign requirements are. I think we could have very similar one in Iowa for our state candidates. It would help a lot.

VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, essentially, doesn't this decision say that state law must now be like federal law, in terms of what can be limited and what can't be?

POPE: Yes, and I think this will give impetus to states like Iowa that don't currently have limits on campaign contributions, there will probably be bills filed all over the country in various states to provide these limits.

VAN SUSTEREN: And when the decision was written today by Justice Souter, who incidentally is an appointee by President Bush, he said that each person who dissented from his decision today would like to overrule the federal law that was set forth in 1976. What does that mean to you, Larry?

POPE: Well, I think all of us have thought that Buckley versus Valeo, that 1976 decision, has always been in play. And this is certainly an invitation to people to try to re-litigate the federal limits. I think the Supreme Court is very fluid right now on where it's going to go on these issues.

VAN SUSTEREN: Rob, how important is this to the voters in Iowa, campaign finance reform and spending limits?

ROB TULLY, STATE CHAIR, IOWA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, I think it's very important. And actually one of the things Dick was alluding to, we really don't have rules, but we have some rules, such as the governor can't raise any money during the legislative session period so that you don't have, basically, special interests wanting to give money during when the legislature is in session, that type of thing.

But, you know, when you talk to the average person, and I really believe this, whether they be a Democrat or Republican, they really believe there is a need to stop the incredible amount of spending that goes on in political campaigns. I ran for Congress last year in the Second District. I raised $750,000 and spent that up there to try to unseat an incumbent, Jim Nussle. He spend quite a bit more than I did, and a great deal of soft money came into that campaign. But think about that. We are in little old Iowa in the Second District, and we spent probably a million and a half, times that by 435 every two years, and some, especially in more urban areas, they spend a lot more than we do here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, you know, the Republicans seem to have less interest in restrictions on campaign contributions than the Democrats, but what about here in Iowa in terms of the Republican voter? Do they care about the issue about whether there should be restrictions or not restrictions on giving money?

JOHNSON; I think if you ask the average citizen, they would tell you they are concerned about the amount money that is being spent, and particularly where there are large sums going to a specific candidate from an individual.

VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, it's sort of interesting, in the dissent by Justice Kennedy, he says that money isn't speech, money is property. And it was under the theory that money was speech that there seemed to be more freedom in terms of spending. What do you think about Justice Kennedy's remark that money is property and American's should be able to do with their property as they deem appropriate.

POPE: Well, people ought to be able to do with their property what they deem appropriate. But if somebody's got a lot of money that gives them access to the media and to a forum to get their message across. And so, obviously, people with money have a lot more impact on our political system and the discourse of ideas than the middle class or somebody that doesn't have that kind of money. That's the problem.

Of course, this decision does not address spending. So somebody like Steve Forbes or a rich person can still spend that money to get the message across.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break. Charles Bierbauer, thank you for joining us today from Washington.

And up next: Go inside the Iowa caucuses and find out how the two dueling parties decipher the preferences of their presidential candidates. Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

According to the director of the state corrections department, prisons in Iowa are operating at about 116 percent of capacity. Federal court rulings allow states to operate at 130 percent capacity.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log onto www.cnn.com and click your way to the BURDEN OF PROOF link. We now provide a live video feed Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know we've been getting a lot of information in the mail and I've gotten a lot of phone calls, and even had a message from Al Gore's campaign on our answering machine when I got home from work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's no big deal, no big deal because they put their pants on the same way I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Today's caucuses here in Iowa represent the first big test for presidential candidates in the Democratic and Republican parties. But state leaders of both parties use different methods to poll their respective lawmakers.

Let me go first to you, Dick. Dick, you handed me this piece of paper with a list of names on it -- the candidates. Is this what the Republicans use?

JOHNSON: This is a sample ballot that will be used at each of the precinct caucuses tonight.

VAN SUSTEREN: How is this actually done? You have to be a registered Republican, right?

JOHNSON: Right, you have to be a registered Republican or, at the door, you can register as a Republican and participate in the caucus.

VAN SUSTEREN: So if I'm a member -- if I'm 18 years of age, I'm a resident of Iowa, I decide tonight I'm going to be a Republican, I register at the door, can I leave, then, and become a Democrat at midnight?

JOHNSON: Well, each caucus leader has a list of those that are registered already. You would register at the caucus site. The next day, your name would go to the county auditor as a registered Republican. If you decided to change the next day, you'd just have to go back to the county auditor and say you're changing your affiliation.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you actually count these ballots?

JOHNSON: These are counted by the committee as a part of the precinct participation. There's a reporter that's appointed by the chair of the precinct caucus. That reporter, then, after the votes are cast and a committee of the people count the votes, with the oversight of -- each of the individual candidates have an opportunity to oversee that. Then that reporter calls into a central data bank which we will be supervising -- volunteer auditors from the state auditor's office will be supervising that phone bank, and those results will be faxed down to the center at -- NAP (ph) center where the votes are going to be reported. And they will be going directly from my chief deputy to me at the NAP center.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not to suggest any sort of fraud, but how do you avoid fraud? How do you avoid making sure that the phone calls you're getting are the right phone calls, that you're getting the right faxes? Do you have any security in place?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, each one of the precinct reporters has a number -- a secret number of the precinct that they're at, along with their county location. And those calls, then, are monitored. If someone else tries to call in, we have ways of verifying those numbers. We'll have a number of operators on hand to have these calls rolled over to. We're also doing a number of auditing processes that we will be verifying on a sampling basis back with the reporters.

VAN SUSTEREN: Rob, how are the Democrats doing it. Is it different?

TULLY: It is different. I mean, ours is a little bit more open process. We come and meet at 7:00 tonight, and then we'll do some party business. And then at 7:30, we break into presidential preference groups. And that means, literally, it's done in front of everybody as opposed to making a secret ballot. You stand up in front of everybody, your friends, your neighbors, and you declare who you want to be the next president. So, one area of the room Gore people will meet in. There'll be another part of the room where Bradley people meet in. And then there's actually a side of the room that uncommitteds will go to.

Under the Democratic rules, we actually have to have a certain percentage, depending on the number of delegates that are going to be elected, to who have what we call a threshold. If you don't make that, that means that you're not eligible -- your group isn't eligible to vote in a delegate that will go to, ultimately, the state convention, but right now to the county convention.

VAN SUSTEREN: But -- so you don't actually have a ballot like this, you count heads?

TULLY: Correct.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what do you do -- what do the Democrats do to make sure that the results that you get are not fraud?

TULLY: Well, implemented a program this year that we haven't done before, and that is, in addition to the chair person of the caucus and the recording secretary, once they get the determination as to the delegates that have been elected -- how many for Gore, how many for Bradley -- then those two individuals, along with a representative from each campaign, Bradley and Gore, will go and make the phone call to the county office. They will report their results. The county office then, in turn, will report those to the state center that we have here at the Hotel Fort Des Moines.

What we do to assure that the counts are correct is that we make all of -- the chair person, the secretary, and the two members of each of the Bradley and the Gore campaign sign an affidavit. That gets mailed that night. It gets dropped into a mailbox, and then we'll perform an audit three or four days after this to make sure that the numbers that we received that night were accurate.

VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, does it ever occur that someone switching party, that someone declares I'm a Republican tonight and Democrat tomorrow, in some way sort of skews what would be the true -- what should be the true results?

POPE: No, because there's movement back and forth. And I think both parties are always trying to recruit people. And the hope is that if somebody shows up tonight and they've been a Republican and now they want to be a Democrat tonight, that maybe they can keep them as a Democrat or vice versa. So I think the idea of rigid party structures and memberships is gone. We like fluidity.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, we're going to take a break. And up next: The politics of abortion and whether it will play a role in tonight's results. Is this the eternal presidential litmus test? Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Which hotly-debated Supreme Court decision marked its 27th anniversary this past weekend?

A: The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Saturday night in Iowa, Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes used the anniversary of Roe versus Wade to re- inject the abortion issue into campaign 2000. Forbes said he would, quote, "work to overturn one of the most disgraceful Supreme Court decisions in the history of this country."

Dick, what does Republican Steve Forbes think he can do to overturn this decision?

JOHNSON: Well, by selecting Supreme Court justices, obviously, that's his first opportunity, and getting more national public support of the issue in front of the public.

VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, is it possible to pack the court? Many people thought when then-President Bush picked Justice Souter that he'd have a certain type of justice that he may not have gotten. Can you really predict?

POPE: You can't predict with certainty. You can predict with some accuracy. Certainly, we knew a Scalia or a Justice Thomas going on the court would probably be pro-life. So, I think the days of real shocks are probably over, and I think that presidents are pretty careful now about who they put on the court. VAN SUSTEREN: Rob, we talk about abortion so much in the media, do you think the voters really care and do they know the difference between the Roe versus Wade and issues about the ban on partial-birth abortion. Do you think they really know?

TULLY: You know, I don't think they know the intricacies of the decisions, but, you know, if you talk to Iowans, most Iowans will tell you that they'd just as soon not have this part of politics, that it's a personal issue with people, and so I think some Iowans do get a little turned off when it gets played into the political arena on such a high, you know, high level as it is here in the presidential debates.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, do you agree?

JOHNSON: Well, I think certainly if, as a pro-life individual, I feel very strongly about the issue. On the same token, I think it's brought into the politics of it way too much. I think that's an issue that ought to be handled in indirect ways.

VAN SUSTEREN: Like what, like how? How do you handle it indirectly?

JOHNSON: By presenting the issues and helping people find better solutions, and I think some of the candidates have done that, through providing opportunities for people to save those children and adopt them, for instance, and try to encourage programs that would make it more popular to find other solutions than abortion.

VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, is the decision by the United States Supreme Court in 1973 in Roe versus Wade so strongly worded that it's unlikely that there will ever be a departure from that finding that, in essence, it was a constitutional right?

POPE: I think it would be very hard for a court that had an open mind to say that the right of privacy really doesn't exist any more in this context, and I think that's what has influenced the court in the last few years, that it's now been a part of our Constitution for almost 30 years and it would be very tough to overturn that precedent, but you've got a substantial number of people on the court that would like to do that. So, with a couple of strategically-placed appointments to the court, Roe versus Wade could be in danger of being overturned.

VAN SUSTEREN: But indeed, it's rare when the Supreme Court will actually sort of reverse itself. I mean, we had it in Brown versus Board of Education in the early 1950s; that was a reversal. But does the Supreme Court often reverse itself on such important issues?

POPE: Not very often, and you need a really-defining issue for the court to change its mind. But abortion might be that kind of issue, so it is -- it is a matter of concern to both sides.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now you have the "Des Moines Register," which you think is -- has a significant picture on the front. POPE: Well, you asked the question, is this an important issue, and on the front page of the "Des Moines Register," today, we've got George W. Bush and Senator Chuck Grassley, and with them is one of the very most prominent fundamentalist Christian ministers in the state, they're all at the Sunday service singing, and this is certainly good for George W. Bush to have his picture taken next to these gentleman. On page seven of the same issue, Planned Parenthood is running a full- page ad talking about the pro-choice point of view. So, it's a big issue to Iowans.

VAN SUSTEREN: And in the same newspaper, isn't it true, Rob, that this morning the editorial page endorsed Bradley?

TULLY: Yesterday, but, yes, they did, but it certainly wasn't on this particular issue.

And I think Larry makes a good point. Especially on the Republican side, this has been a hot issue to see which candidate can move to the more fundamentalist Christian position to gather those votes, because they sometimes have a tendency in the Republican Party to be the most organized and the most vocal, and so to make a -- have a good showing on a Republican side, it's good to do exactly what George W. Bush was able to get with that photograph on the front page of our most prominent newspaper.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching. Stay tuned to CNN for expanded coverage of today's Iowa caucuses, including a special evening of live programming.

And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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