Campaign finance reforms are wanted by most Americans Those polled don't expect changes, though

April 08, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

While a significant majority of the American people believe that fundamental changes are needed in the campaign financing system, most doubt that President Clinton and Congress are committed to changing it, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll.

The president is nevertheless maintaining his strong personal standing with the public, the poll found, despite months of sometimes withering accusations of improper campaign fund-raising tactics.

In contrast, Vice President Al Gore has suffered a sizable loss of approval as the controversy over campaign finances has grown.

Almost nine of 10 people surveyed see the need for fundamental changes in fund-raising procedures, or even a total overhaul. But only three in 10 believe that the president really wants change, despite his announced commitment to it. The resolve of Congress is subject to even greater doubt, with only 23 percent of the public convinced that the lawmakers, for all their talk, actually want to change the current laws.

Clinton's personal standing, meanwhile, remains strong as Congress gears up for hearings into his 1996 re-election practices. The telephone poll registered a 56 percent job approval rating for the president, largely because of his handling of the economy. That is seven points below his personal high, registered by CBS News after his second inauguration.

The campaign financing issue gained momentum after the president's re-election with a steady stream of disclosures about the wide net that had been cast by the Clinton-Gore team to reach affluent donors to the Democratic Party. Accounts about a chain of high-priced fund-raising events at the White House, and sleep-over privileges in the Lincoln Bedroom for favored guests, stirred Republican accusations that the president had put White House perquisites up "for sale."

Controversy increased with news that the Democratic National Committee had had to return sizable donations because of questions about their source and that White House invitations had gone to such figures as a foreign arms dealer and a twice-convicted felon later imprisoned for drug smuggling.

Asked about Clinton's campaign fund-raising practices, 44 percent of respondents said he had done nothing wrong, while 20 percent judged his activities unethical and 12 percent illegal. Despite his general approval rating, two of five Americans said they thought the president had made or changed policy decisions as a direct result of money he raised for the party from major donors.

Gore's approval rating for job performance fell to 25 percent, a drop of 16 points in three months.

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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