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Campaign Finance Reform

Read the remarks from:
Sen. John McCain

  • Round Two

    Susan Tolchin
  • Round Two

  • Remarks From Curtis Gans

    Part Two Of Five

    Outnumbered But Undaunted

    By Curtis Gans
    March 28, 1997

    The only thing I agree with in my colleagues' initial offerings is Susan Tolchin's assertion that voter turnoff is not a sign of contentment. As someone who for 20 years has studied the more than 25 percent decline in voter participation in the past 36 years--the longest and deepest slide in the nation's history--I can attest to a growing disaffection within the citizenry.

    But the causes of that disaffection lie in areas other than campaign finance--in events like Vietnam and Watergate; in the disingenuous leadership of Nixon and Johnson; in the atomization and fragmentation of our society by television and, more recently, the cathode ray terminal of computers; in shifts to more anti-government and more self-seeking values; in a national debt that hamstrings both vision and a capacity to govern; in a misaligned party system in which one party is far to the right of the American center and another seems to stand for nothing durable; in the conduct of television campaigns through attack ads which, for one to two hours a day on every broadcast outlet, tell us that every candidate and our political system is awful; in declining education in the inner city and declining civic education within that education; and in the growing income disparities between rich and poor and the growing lack of hope at the bottom end of that equation.

    There is literally no survey, study or poll that ties the public discontent to campaign finance problems. In practically every survey, campaign finance is on the bottom of the public's list of concerns, as perhaps evidenced, by the less than 200 people who showed up this week to the highly publicized rallies on the issue in Boston and Philadelphia in which Sens. McCain and Feingold and Common Cause President Anne McBride were the headlined speakers.

    Sen. McCain may be right that after the press has made mostly minor transgressions into a national cause celebre, the public by 82 percent wants to do something about campaign finance, but there is no such unanimity about either what priority ought to be given the issues and what should be done. The fact is that 97 Senators are not sponsors of the McCain-Feingold bill and more than 400 Congressmen are not sponsors of the Shays-Meehan counterpart in the House. The broader fact is that the bipartisanship that exists is a bipartisan consensus that McCain-Feingold is not the way to go, something shared by the overwhelming majority of academics who have studied this issue and most of the disinterested and interested practitioners of politics.

    Let us take a look a some of the reasons why so many oppose the type of limits that McCain-Feingold would impose with respect to the system in which such limits are presently in place--the presidential system:

    • Because there are strict limits on contributions at $1,000 per individual per cycle both George Bush in 1988 and Bob Dole in 1996 ran out of money on the primary week they captured the nomination and had they been further challenged they would not have had the ability to compete.

    • Because of the same contribution limits, the point of view of supply-side economics was represented by the millionaire Steve Forbes rather than its principle exponent, Jack Kemp. The case for a third force was represented by the eccentric millionaire Ross Perot rather than Colin Powell.

    • Because of the spending limits put on the race, President Clinton, who was not challenged in the primaries, enjoyed a 35-2 spending advantage over Sen. Dole in the period between April and August.

    With one exception, the studies that have been conducted on the issue of limits show that they advantage incumbents at the expense of the challengers, that the critical question with respect to the competition is not how much the incumbent spends but whether the challenger has enough to get his or her message across. The thrust of the McCain-Feingold bill with respect to both contribution and spending would be to advantage challengers, reduce competition and deny the system the capital it needs.

    Former Rep. Al Swift, in a recent article in Legal Times, correctly observed that we will either have a system totally publicly financed or one that has private money. Given the composition of Congress and the present public will, private financing continues to be the order of the day. As such, we need enough money to insure competition and diversity, and constricting the supply and flow does precisely the opposite.