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Campaign Finance Reform

Follow the third round of the debate:
Curtis Gans

Sen. John McCain

Susan Tolchin

Round Three Analysis & Discussion Questions

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

In this round, Mr. Gans challenges the other members of the Exchange by addressing what he regards as the "myths" that sustain the arguments for campaign finance reform: money wins elections; special interests dominate politics; money buys public policy; if money doesn't buy public policy, it buys access; politics is corrupt; and people give money to buy influence.

Senator McCain contends that suggesting "that the current system is fair, is functional and is worthy of the voters' trust is simply an absurd proposition and no one is buying it." He notes that the McCain-Feingold has bipartisan support that will ultimately prevail because the current system is "indefensible" and "crumbling."

Professor Tolchin raises the issue of foreign money flowing into US political campaigns - and its implications for public policy. The opposition to reform, she argues, may be rooted in the self-interest of congressional staffers and others who gain from foreign connections.


Discussion Questions

1. In Round Three, each of the participants provides a different picture of how public policies are made in American government. Curtis Gans focuses on the role of "myths" in policy making, while Susan Tolchin implies that the self-interest of policy makers (and their staffers) has a great deal to do with decisions made in Washington. At the same time, John McCain provides a more upbeat assessment by noting that his proposals will ultimately prevail because the current system is "indefensible." Compare and contrast these remarks and what they say about our policy making and political systems. Which perception do you think best reflects the reality of policy making?

2. Curtis Gans and John McCain discuss the financial advantage of incumbents under the current system, but each sees the situation differently. While McCain notes stresses that incumbents usually win, Gans notes significant instances where lesser financed challengers have been victorious. What do you think about the call for a "level playing field" in political campaigns? Would equalizing campaign money for every candidate really create a level playing field? Do you think imposing limits on campaign financing is a desirable goal in a constitutional democracy where freedom of speech and association is so highly valued?