State of Alabama secondary Archives: on Government Reform


Bill Clinton: His 140 signing statements focused on judicial resolution

Pres. Clinton issued signing statements covering 140 laws over the eight years of his presidency, as compared with Pres. Bush, who objected to 232 laws during his four years in office. Pres. Bush, by contrast, has issued more signing statements than all of his predecessors combined--challenging the constitutionality of more than 1,000 laws during his first six years in office.

The difference between the practice of Pres. Clinton and that of Pres. Bush is not simply one of volume--though that alone is striking, particularly given that Pres. Clinton faced a hostile and adversarial Congress dominated by the opposing political party while President Bush for the first six years faced a docile and supportive Congress. Pres. Clinton's signing statements wer based on well-settled principles of constitutional law and were guided by a desire to allow the judiciary to resolve issues of constitutional interpretation. Pres. Bush's signing statements, however, rest on legal theories regarding his own power.

Source: The Assault on Reason, by Al Gore, p.224 Jul 1, 2008

George W. Bush: More signing statements than all other presidents combined

As with some other abuses by the current administration, Bush is not the first president to attempt an expansion of executive authority, but his abuses are so far beyond those of any of his predecessors that they represent a difference of kind as well as degree.

Bill Clinton issued signing statements covering 140 laws over eight years, as compared with his predecessor, George H. W. Bush, who objected to 232 laws over four years. George W. Bush, by contrast, has issued more signing statements than all o his predecessors combined--challenging the constitutionality of more than 1,000 laws during his first 6 years in office.

The difference between the practice of Clinton & that of George W. Bush is not simply one of volume--though that alone is striking. Bush's signing statements rest on his theory of his own power is so vast that, in practice, it amounts to an assertion of power that is obviously unconstitutional--a power to simply declare what provisions of law he will and will not comply with.

Source: The Assault on Reason, by Al Gore, p.224 Jul 1, 2008

Al Gore: Money dominates campaigns because of cost of TV ads

Many Senators feel compelled to attend fund-raising events almost constantly in order to collect money--much of it from special interests--to buy 30-second TV commercials for their next re-election campaign.

In practice, what television’s dominance has come to mean is that the inherent value of political propositions put forward by candidates is now largely irrelevant compared with the image-based ad campaigns they use to shape the perceptions of voters. The high cost of these commercials has radically increased the role of money in politics--and the influence of those who contribute it. That is why campaign finance reform, however well drafted, often misses the main point: so long as the dominant means of engaging in political dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue in one way or another to dominate American politics. And as a result, ideas will continue to play a diminished role.

Source: The Assault on Reason, by Al Gore May 16, 2007

Al Gore: Bush pursues policies in advance of the facts

In case after case, Bush has pursued policies in advance of the facts--policies designed to benefit friends & supporters. These supporters have, in turn, benefited the president with enormous contributions and political muscle. This mutual back-scratchin has pushed government policy further and further away from the public interest.
Source: The Assault on Reason, by Al Gore, p. 63-69 May 16, 2007

Al Gore: Bush chronically abuses “signing statements”

On of Pres. Bush’s most contemptuous & dangerous practices has been his chronic abuse of what are called “signing statements.” These are written pronouncements that the president issues upon signing a bill into law. These statements have served a largely ceremonial function. On occasion, these statements have also included passages in which the president raises constitutional concerns.

The Constitution give the president a choice of signing a law, vetoing a law, or refraining from signing a law--in which case it goes into effect without his signature. But those are the only options. The president is not a member of the legislative branch and therefore is not entitled to pick apart all of the provisions of each law and decide for himself which provisions he will accept and which he will reject.

Bush’s signing statements rest on legal theories that his own power is so vast that it is obviously unconstitutional--a power to simply declare what provision of the law he will & will not comply with.

Source: The Assault on Reason, by Al Gore, p.223-224 May 16, 2007

Al Gore: Full & robust public financing of all federal elections

An urgent task is to try new approaches to limit the influence of large financial contributions to candidates for elected office. I am skeptical that any reform measure will be very effective so long as the principal means of communicating with voters is through expensive 30-second TV ads. However, I have long supported full & robust public financing of all federal elections--with provisions that encourage all candidates to accept the funding and, in return, to agree to a prohibition on private financing of campaigns. I realize that the possibility of such law’s being enacted is not high, but it is worth advocating nonetheless because of the severe damage being done to out democracy by the dominance of wealthy contributors.

Paid disinformation-- in support of candidates and ballot initiatives--is polluting America’s democratic discourse. So long as it is politically impossible to simply prohibit such funding, we should pursue the next best option--increasing the transparency of all contributions.

Source: The Assault on Reason, by Al Gore, p.258 May 16, 2007

Al Gore: 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

Al Gore: Supported “PAC participation in the political process”

[During his Senate campaign in 1984], Gore had sponsored legislation that limited PAC money, but that didn’t stop him from soaking up every PAC dime he could under existing rules. He caucused with PAC representatives, highlighting the votes he had made in their favor. “I am a strong supporter of PAC participation in the political process,” he told PAC Manager, a PAC newsletter. “I need to raise large sums of money, and I have enjoyed getting involved with the PAC community.”
Source: Inventing Al Gore, p.153 Mar 3, 2000

Al Gore: “Reinvention” caused some reform, but nothing fundamental

“Reinventing Government,” or REGO, was a classic New Democrat idea-fix government, don’t demolish it. In 1993, Clinton named Gore to head a six-month examination of the federal government called the National Performance Review (NPR). Gore’s report made 384 recommendations for streamlining and energizing the bureaucracy and promised $108 billion in savings and a 12% cut in the federal workforce-252,000 jobs-by 1998.

His reinvention quest ultimately led to some significant reforms, principally in the area of purchasing practices. But Gore failed to entertain the fundamental questions as he launched REGO: What does government do? Could someone else do it better? Gore’s efforts add up to a mixed picture. By 1998 the federal payroll had been reduced by 330,000 positions (15.4%), mostly at the Defense Department. In the end Gore’s REGO probably did save the government some money and certainly helped make it smaller. But it was not redesigned, reinvented, or reinvigorated, as he set out to do.

Source: Inventing Al Gore, p.278-83 Mar 3, 2000

Al Gore: 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

Al Gore: 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

  • The above quotations are from State of Alabama Politicians: secondary Archives.
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