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Campaign Finance Reform

Follow the second round of the debate:
Curtis Gans

Sen. John McCain

Susan Tolchin

Round Two Analysis & Discussion Questions

By Melvin Dubnick
Academic Editor
PoliticsNow Classroom, April 8, 1997

In his response to comments by Senator McCain and Professor Tolchin, Curtis Gans argues that campaign finance reform is not a major issue for the American public and is not the source of public discontent. If there is a bipartisan consensus, he argues, it involves opposition to current proposals for reform.

In contrast to Mr. Gans assertions, Senator McCain points to polls that indicate strong public support for campaign finance reform. Central to the McCain-Feingold proposals is the enhance of public confidence through the elimination of "soft money" financing and the reestablishment of accountability in the funding of political campaigns.

Professor Tolchin provides a critical assessment of the three major excuses given by those who oppose campaign finance reform: (1) the issue is too complicated, (2) the legislation is unnecessary because public pressure will correct the system, and (3) McCain-Feingold isn't worth the political capital it would take to support passage.


Discussion Questions

1. While Senator McCain cites polls indicating strong public support for campaign finance reform, Curtis Gans argues that the issue isn't really important to the general public. As evidence Gans points to the low turnout at recent pro-reform rallies held by Senators McCain and Feingold. Susan Tolchin dismisses the small crowd indicator and warns that elected officials must take the campaign finance issue seriously because voters have long memories.

What is the role of public opinion is the debate over campaign finance reform? How much weight ought to be given to attendance at rallies? To public opinion polls? To grass roots lobbying? Should campaign finance reform be passed or defeated based on indicators of public support of a particular position? Or is it an issue that should be judged on its merits and implications for the political system and constitutional rights?

2. Senator McCain pursues the issue of accountability in his second contribution to the Exchange. By eliminating "soft money," McCain-Feingold would essentially result in reestablishing an explicit link between candidates and contributors.

How important is accountability in the issues surrounding campaign finance reform? Would the proposed elimination of soft money improve democratic accountability in American politics? If so, how? What other changes in the way we finance political campaigns would help enhance accountability?