Chat Transcript: Arianna Huffington

Campaign finance reform, the war on drugs and poverty in America: Arianna Huffington is determined to bring some difficult political issues out of the shadows.

Huffington is one of the lead organizers of the Shadow Conventions, which have paralleled this year's Democratic and Republican Conventions. The Shadow Conventions are an attempt, say its participants, to focus attention on issues the major parties have neglected, and to offer serious discourse on these issues instead of what organizers call the "pre-programmed live infomercials" presented by the other parties' conventions. Look below for a transcript of the chat.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 6:43pm ET

Welcome, Arianna Huffington, to Thanks for joining us. You've had a chance to observe both conventions. Which party has put on a better show?

Arianna Huffington at 6:44pm ET

Really, I think both parties have put on floor shows rather than political conventions, and that's unfortunate because as a result, millions of eligible voters, especially young people, are dropping out of politics. The turnout in November is expected to be the lowest ever.

That's the reason why six blocks from here at Patriotic Hall we have been holding a Shadow Convention to address three critical, urgent issues that are not being seriously addressed here, nor were they being seriously addressed in Philadelphia. They are: the corruption of money in politics, the persistence of poverty in the middle of our prosperity and the failed drug war that neither nominee is willing to address.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 6:46pm ET

There's a lot riding on Al Gore's speech tonight. What must he accomplish? What can he do to set the tone for the rest of the campaign?

Arianna Huffington at 6:48pm ET

It would be great if he did something unexpected — something that showed real leadership, that pushed the envelope.

If, for example, he decided to speak out against the drug war — the casualties, the 400,000 nonviolent drug offenders that it has produced — if he asked for legislative changes in mandatory minimums, just as one example, he would be demonstrating the kind of leadership that people question whether he has.

It would be taking a risk, and he would probably be terrified that he would be seen as soft on crime.

John L. - Minneapolis from at 6:48pm ET

How do you think today's news of the new grand jury convening for a possible indictment of Bill Clinton might affect the "media spotlight" on Gore's speech tonight?

Arianna Huffington at 6:49pm ET

I just cannot believe they would be reopening the Monica Lewinsky case. It seems to me like a Saturday Night Live news item. I think you're making it up, but I know you're not. I cannot believe it would affect in any way the coverage of the Gore speech.

Dan Berg from at 6:50pm ET

Why don't you speak out on the ongoing witch hunt of President Clinton by the GOP — i.e. the news of the new grand jury that was leaked today?

Arianna Huffington at 6:51pm ET

We are speaking out on three critical issues at the Shadow Convention. I know it's a lot more fun to speak about (Clinton).

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 6:52pm ET

You've been running Shadow Conventions. What was your purpose in staging these events, and what did you hope to accomplish?

Arianna Huffington at 6:53pm ET

We've had an amazing response both from the people who participated personally, and the 150,000 on the Web, and we've seen the ways these issues have begun to influence the discussion. We've now reached the point where no candidate for president thinks he can get elected without talking the language of reform. The Shadow Conventions are part of this movement — to move beyond talking the talk, and actually beginning to enact reform.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 6:53pm ET

Now that the conventions are ending, the next big event is the presidential and vice presidential debates. Will you hold shadow debates?

Arianna Huffington at 6:54pm ET

I wish somebody would. I think it would be a great idea, because the debates are clearly part of the closed political system, the way they are preventing third-party candidates from participating. But our plans for what comes next are going to be decided in half an hour, when we meet in a town-hall, what's-next meeting.

Michael Smythe from at 6:54pm ET

In light of your views, will you support an existing political party or work toward the creation of a new one?

Arianna Huffington at 6:55pm ET

No, those of us who convened the Shadow Convention have said again and again that we're not interested in a third party. We see the Shadow Convention as helping to build a movement that will help bring about change from within the political system — the way, for example, the civil rights movement led to the Voting Rights Act, to legislative reforms that would not have happened without it.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 6:55pm ET

Arianna, thanks for joining us.