Denouncing "agents of influence" and "glorified bribery," Republican presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan on Thursday released a sweeping package of campaign finance, lobbying and congressional reform proposals that he promised would "break the hammerlock special interests have on both parties."
The proposals touched virtually every concern about the nation's political system that Ross Perot has raised, and underscored the importance Buchanan places on attracting Perot supporters in his bid for the GOP nomination.
Although the Texas billionaire just last week launched a nationwide bid to create a third party, Buchanan said: "I want to bring the Perot people back into the Republican Party."
The plan continued the blurring of Buchanan's ideological identity in this campaign.
He remains staunchly conservative on social issues, an ardent opponent of abortion and affirmative action. But increasingly that component of his message has been overshadowed by a blue-collar conservative populism that denounces the leadership in both parties for trade, tax and immigration policies that he argues have depressed middle-class incomes.
The proposals Buchanan unveiled Thursday divided into three categories.
To reform congressional operations, he proposed to eliminate pensions for new members of Congress, ban mass mailings from legislators to their constituents and launch a new legislative effort to allow states to impose term limits on Congress. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down state term limit laws.
Secondly, Buchanan proposed rewriting campaign finance laws to ban corporate contributions to political parties and donations from political action committees to congressional candidates. Vowing to end "these Hollywood . . . and Wall Street parties . . . where hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised," Buchanan also proposed that candidates for the House of Representatives only be allowed to raise money in their districts, and that Senate candidates only be allowed to raise money in their home states.
Finally, Buchanan proposed a series of measures to limit the influence of lobbyists. These include severe new limits on gifts from lobbyists to legislators and a new requirement that all representatives for foreign interests pay a $100,000 registration fee. He also proposed that all tax-exempt foundations, such as think tanks, be required to publicly report any contributions from foreign sources.
And he said he would write into law a five-year ban, imposed by President Clinton, on former White House employees returning to lobby government, as well as extend the prohibition to members of Congress and their staff.
Buchanan's package generally drew praise from political reform advocates, who have complained that the Republicans in Congress have mothballed the drive to reform the campaign finance and lobbying laws after promising to clean up Washington in their campaigns last fall.
"The most important thing . . . is he is challenging the party on this issue," said Ann McBride, the president of Common Cause, a citizens lobby. "It really shows how deep and pervasive this issue is."
Buchanan warned that Republicans risked a political backlash if they continued to delay the type of reform he is promoting. "If we want to be a majority governing party, we've got to give up some of the bad habits," he said. "Do not get in the way of this train, I would urge the Republican Party."