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Gore Feels That His Past Errors Shouldn’t Mar Campaign Reform

By Jonathan Weisman

Acknowledging that his own fund-raising excesses had rendered him “an imperfect messenger” for the cause of campaign reform, Vice President Al Gore proposed an ambitious package of measures Monday to sever the link between big-money campaign donors and the politicians they seek to influence with their cash.

In a speech laced with references to abuses during the 1996 White House campaign, Gore called for a ban on unregulated “soft money,” new disclosure requirements for Washington lobbyists, free television time for federal candidates, and the creation of a $7.1 billion endowment that would finance congressional candidates who forsake private donations.

Together, the package would be “nothing less than the most sweeping campaign-finance reform in history,” Gore told an audience at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

In going well beyond his earlier campaign funding proposals, the vice president also amplified his contrition for the events of 1996, when he attended a much-ridiculed fund-raiser at a Southern California Buddhist temple and made more than 50 solicitations for campaign money on a White House telephone.

“Democrats, along with Republicans, engaged in fund raising that pushed the system to the breaking point,” Gore acknowledged. “I have the scars to prove it. And I know I may be an imperfect messenger for this cause, but the real wounds will be to our democracy itself unless we address this problem.”

Gore vowed to make legislation to ban soft money -- the large, unregulated donations made to political parties -- the first domestic priority of his presidency. Such a ban has been championed by Sen. John McCain, and Gore mentioned the Arizona Republican’s name repeatedly Monday, seeking McCain’s mantle of reform.

McCain responded skeptically, saying he welcomed “any good-faith proposal to reform our broken campaign-finance system.”

Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, the putative Republican White House nominee, accused Gore of hiding information about his role in the 1996 fund-raising scandals.