Campaign Finance Reform
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Remarks From Sen. John McCainPart One Of Five
By Sen. John McCain
Virtually every day you pick up the paper and read about some new campaign financing scandal or impropriety. These articles make it exceedingly clear that our campaign financing system is broken and that it must be fixed.
As Anthony Corrado, one of the nations foremost experts on campaign spending noted in the Washington Post, "The system we created in the 1970s essentially collapsed...It's the Wild West out there. It's anything goes."
This is not just an isolated opinion. In a recent Washington Post poll, only four percent of the public said "the current campaign financing system is all right just the way it is and shouldn't be changed."
Overwhelmingly the public believes that the system must be changed. Eighty-two percent believe that the current system has problems and needs to be changed or is broken and must be fixed. We ignore the public's views at our own peril.
The American electorate believes that campaign reform must occur because they are growing tired of campaign financing scandals and because they perceive that their views come second to the views of well-heeled special interests. We will continue to see campaign finance scandals occur. What we know to date is what we have read in the press. Unfortunately, I have no doubt that the Government Affairs Committee, once formal investigations commence, will uncover yet more indiscretions. But I also have no doubt that those indiscretions will not be limited to the Democratic party nor will they be limited to the Presidential race.
Virtually every federal election that occurred in 1996 saw the impact of a financing system that is broken. As the Post noted: "By the time votes were tallied and winners declared, election 96 ranked as the costlier ever, an estimate $2,7 billion binge of television and radio advertising, mailings, pollings, and political palaver that was louder, longer, and--for a luck few running the campaigns--more lucrative than any election in American history."
"Frenzied fund-raising and freewheeling spending transformed not only presidential politics but also House and Senate contests. Torrents of cash--particularly from outside interest groups and national party organizations--swept through the states and congressional districts, which became ideological battlefields for forces much bigger than the individual candidates. Hugs sums also poured into the reelection coffers of key lawmakers, who, in turn, helped special interests win tax breaks and other favors in legislation such as last summer's minimum wage bill."
Clearly something must be done.
We must move legislation that will address two principles:
First, whatever we do must lessen the influence of money in politics. Second, it must level the playing field between challengers and incumbents.
Why must the influence of money in politics be lessened? Simply, because the public perceives large influxes of cash into elections as corrupting--and to a certain degree, they are correct. During consideration of last year's Telecommunications Reform Act, virtually everyone was represented at the table but one, the average consumer who uses a telephone, or watches cable, or uses the Internet. They weren't represented because they didn't have the money to buy a seat at the table.
Placing reasonable limits on cash in elections is not a new concept. In the past the Congress and the courts have seen fit to limit the contributions of individuals to elections. Currently, individuals can only give a candidate $1,000 in a primary and $1,000 in the general election. PACs are limited to giving candidates $5,000 in a primary and $5,000 in the general election. And corporations and labor unions are banned from directly contributing to elections. Why? Because the Congress perceived that there are benefits to society as a whole by imposing such limits.
These limits are reasonable. They do not violate anyone's freedom of speech. We should develop a system of reasonable and voluntary limits that in no way abridge a person's constitutional rights and at the same time allow candidates to get out their message.
Second, we must level the playing field between challengers and incumbents. During last year's election, only one incumbent Senator lost--and that individual lost to a House member who represented the entire state. The facts are clear. The current system favors incumbents--which is why they are loathe to change it. Incumbents routinely out-fundraise challengers--and they raise much more PAC money than challengers--and the candidate who raises the most money usually wins.
These facts cannot be challenged. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule, but these exceptions are only that: exceptions. They are not an excuse to do nothing.
We must also seek to curb the influence of soft money. All money used to influence an election should be documented and limited. Clearly if one group or another wants to make what is known as an independent expenditure for issue advocacy-e.g., to urge voters to vote pro-life or pro-choice--their freedom to do so must be preserved.
Groups may publish and distribute voter guides that list the votes of all members of Congress and serve as a useful tool to educate voters.
We must pursue a moderate, bipartisan approach to deal with a growing crisis of confidence in the electoral system.
If we choose to do nothing, we invite increased cynicism of our elected government. We must put to rout that cynicism which is not healthy for our democracy by reforming campaign finance.