- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 1999

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Steve Forbes and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch got credit from conservatives yesterday for staying off the campaign-finance reform bandwagon when three other presidential candidates argued for new restrictions during Monday’s Republican debate in Arizona.
Mr. Bush also managed to avoid an effort by Mr. Forbes to trap him into an argument about oil prices, but it was the issue of campaign financing that separated the six-man field down the middle Monday night.
Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer joined Arizona Sen. John McCain in advocating “reform” of election financing, which conservative critics say will inevitably aid their liberal opponents by putting the news media in control of campaign information.
“In the last 60 days of an election, under the McCain reform, the campaign would be dominated by the three big TV networks and the major newspapers,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
By forbidding advocacy groups from spending their money on campaign ads, Mr. Norquist said, the reforms advocated by Mr. McCain “would silence groups that wanted to buy time taxpayers organizations and pro-lifers, for example each of which would have no representation in the media.”
At one point during Monday’s debate, Mr. McCain noted that Mr. Bauer had sent a letter of support when the Arizona lawmaker was on the Senate floor trying to get his campaign finance-reform bill passed.
Commending Mr. McCain’s reform effort, Mr. Bauer agreed with him that “large contributions from either big labor or big business to the two political parties are corrupting.”
Mr. Keyes tried to one-up his rivals, promising that more freedom would result from enacting his slogan: “No dollar vote without a ballot vote.”
“If you can’t walk into the voting booth and cast a vote, you should not be able to make a contribution,” he said. “No corporate contributions, no union contributions or from any entities that are not actual, breathing voters who can go cast a vote.”
Mr. Norquist criticized the reform proposals as naive.
“Keyes and Bauer were setting up an imaginary situation where you can stop the left from cheating,” the veteran conservative activist said, asking: “But how can you stop big city bosses and labor unions from helping out their Democratic candidates? No committee could successfully monitor all of that.”
Mr. Bush, Mr. Hatch and Mr. Forbes stuck to their more-or-less similar positions on reform: make contributions instantly public on the Internet, but also let people and organizations vote with their dollars for issues and candidates, through donations and ads, right through Election Day.
On what appeared to be a question meant to trap Mr. Bush, Mr. Forbes asked the Texas governor how he would force down oil prices, which have nearly tripled in the last few months because the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries oil cartel has been restricting production.
Mr. Bush dodged the trap with a free-market reply: “First of all, governments don’t control the price of oil, at least in America.”
But Mr. Bush didn’t offer what may be the only quick fix available: selling off some of the federal government’s oil stockpile.
Mr. Forbes told The Washington Times yesterday that he thought he made his point about Mr. Bush. “Here is man who spent part of his life in the oil business, and he had no energy plan. I would have thought he would say, Why not make use of the strategic oil reserves? Break OPEC’s power plays.’ “
Mr. Norquist said Mr. Forbes “was trying to trap Bush between desires of oil producers to keep prices up and of consumers to lower prices. The proper answer was that the government shouldn’t try to set prices of oil, timber, gold or anything else. So Bush did OK.”
Still, Bush senior advisers yesterday said privately that Mr. Forbes probably scored some points with voters in the Northeast who rely on high-cost heating oil for their homes and with farmers whose overhead costs rise with higher energy prices.

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