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Public Statements

Floor Statement - Campaign Finance Reform

Location: Washington, DC


MCCAIN: The Senate now begins a debate the will determine whether or not we will take an action that most Americans are convinced we are utterly incapable of doing—reforming the way we are elected to office.

Most Americans believe that members of Congress have no greater priority than our reelection. Most Americans believe that every one of us, whether we publicly advocate or publicly oppose campaign finance reform, is working either openly or deceitfully to prevent even the slightest repair to a campaign finance reform system, a campaign finance system, that they firmly believe is corrupt.

Most Americans believe that all of us conspire to hold on to every single political advantage we have, lest we jeopardize our incumbence by a single lost vote. Most Americans believe we will let this nation pay any price, bear any burden, to ensure the success of our personal ambitions, no matter how dear the cost might be to the national interest.

Madam President, now is the moment when we can begin to persuade the people that they are wrong. Now is the moment when we can show the American people that we take courage from our convictions and not our campaign treasuries. Now is the moment when we can begin to prove that we are, in word and deed, the people's representatives, that we are accountable to allow the people who pay our salaries and not just to those Americans who finance our campaigns. Madam President, now is the moment when we should take a risk for our country.

I am a conservative and I believe that it is a very healthy thing for Americans to be skeptical about the purposes of practices of public officials and refrain from expecting too much from their government. Self reliance is the ethic that made Ame-rica great, not consigning personal responsibilities to the state. I would like to think that we conservatives could practice the self reliance which we so devoutly believe to be a noble public virtue and rely on our ideals and our integrity to enlist a majority of Americans to our cause, rather than subordinate those ideals to the imperatives of fund-raising.

I would like to think the justice of our cause, the good sense of our ideals will appeal to a majority of Americans without the need to fund that appeal with obscene amounts of money. I'm a conservative and I believe in small government, but I do not believe that small government conservatives are chasing an idealized form of anarchy. Government is intended to pro- support our constitutional purposes, to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, mote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity.

When the people come to believe that government is so dysfunctional, so corrupt that it no longer serves these ends, basic civil consensus will suffer grave harm and our culture will be fragmented beyond recognition.

I am a conservative. And I believe that a conservative's primary person in public life is to give Americans a government that is less removed in style and substance from the people and to help restore the public's faith in an America that is greater than the sum of its special interests. That, I contend, is also the purpose of meaningful campaign reform.

Madam President, opponents of campaign finance reform will argue that there is no public human cry for reform despite the fact that more and more public polls show that the people support reform by ever widening margins. A recent poll commissioned by my own party revealed that the public now considers campaign finance reform to be among the most important issues facing the country. But no matter.

MCCAIN: Opponents will note that they have stood for reelection and won with their opposition to reform on full public display. Thus they will argue, the people don't really care about reform. But that is because the people don't believe that either the incumbent opposing reform or the challenger advocating it will honestly work to repair this system once he or she has been elected under the rules that govern it.

They distrust both of us. They believe that this system is thoroughly riddled with financial temptations that it corrupts us all.

The opponents will argue the people are content. I will argue that the people are alienated and that this explains why fewer and fewer of them bother to vote.

This problem should motivate all public officials to repair both the appearance and the reality of government corruption. Whether great numbers of elected officials are, in fact, bribed by campaign contributors to cast votes contrary to the national interest is not the single standard for determining the need for reform. Although it would be hard to find much legislation enacted by any Congress that did not contain one or more obscure provisions that serve no legitimate national or even local interest, but which was intended only as a reward for a generous campaign supporter.

Madam President, I do not concede that all politicians are corrupt. I entered politics with some of the same expectations that I had when I was commissioned an ensign in the United States Navy. First among them was my belief that serving my country was an honor, indeed, the most honorable life an American could lead. I believe that still. Regrettably, many Americans do not.

I am honored to serve in the country of many good men and women whose public and private virtue deserves to be above reproach. But we are reproached, Madam President, because the system in which we are elected to this great institution is so awash in money that it has taken so disproportionally from special interests that the people cannot help but suspect that our service is tainted by it.

If most Americans feel they have sufficient cause to doubt our integrity, then we must seek all reasonable means to persuade them otherwise. Reform of our campaign finance laws is indispensable to that end. As long as the wealthiest of Ameri-cans or the richest organized interests can make six figure contributions to political parties and gain the special access to power such generosity confers on the donor, most Americans will dismiss even the most virtuous politicians claim of fairness and patriotism.

And who can blame them when they're overwhelmed by appearance that political representation in America is measured on a sliding scale—the more you give, the more effectively you can petition your government. If a native American tribe wants to recover their ancestral lands, pay up. The government will hear you. If you want to build a pipeline across central Asia, pay up. The president will discuss it with you. If you want to peddle your invention to the government, pay up. You get an audience with government purchasing agents. But if all you pay is your taxes and you want your elected representatives to help you seek redress for some wrong, send us a letter, we'll send you one back.

Madam President, this is a dark view of our profession and I do not believe it fairly represents us. I believe such incidences of influence peddling are, thankfully, an exception to the honest government that most public officials work hard to provide this nation. But we cannot blame the people for thinking otherwise when they are treated to this spectacle of influence and access peddling which assaulted them in the last election.

MCCAIN: When they are told repeatedly that campaign contributions are the only means through which they can petition their government. They, politicians, are selling subway tokens to the government gravy train. Madam President, the opponents of reform will tell you there isn't too much money in politics. They will argue there's not enough. They will observe that more money is spent to advertise toothpaste and yogurt than is spent on our elections. I don't care, Mr. President. We should not concern ourselves with the costs of toothpaste and yogurt marketing. We aren't selling those commodities to the people. We are offering our integrity and our principles and the means we use to market them should not cause the consumer to doubt the value of the product.

Mr. President, Senator Feingold, Senator Thompson, Senator Collins and other sponsors of this legislation have but one purpose: To enact fair, bipartisan campaign reform that seeks no special advantage for one party or another, but only seeks to find common ground upon which we can all begin to restore the people's faith in the integrity of their government.

Each of us may have differences as to what constitutes the best reform, but we have subordinated those differences to the common good in the hope that we might enact those basic reforms which all members of both parties could agree on. It is not perfect reform. There is no perfect reform. We tried to exclude any provision which would be viewed as placing one party or another at a disadvantage. Our purpose is to pass the best, mostbalanced, most important reforms we can. All we ask of our colleagues is that they approach this debate with the same purpose in mind.

Mr. President, on Monday we will offer a substitute amendment to S. 25, which represents a substantial change to the original McCain- Feingold campaign finance reform, but at the same time maintains the core, the heart of the original bill. I strongly believe in all the provisions of the original bill. In fact, as the debate proceeds, we intend to offer a series of amendments that would restore the component parts of our original bill. We intend to proceed to those amendments in good time. For now I'd like to outline for my colleagues the contents of our substitute. Before I do, I want to stress the purposes upon which this legislation is premised.

One: For reform to become law, it must be bipartisan. This is a bipartisan bill. It is a bill that affects both parties equally and fairly.

Two: Genuine reform must lessen the amount of money in politics. Spending on campaigns in current, inflation-adjusted dollars has risen dramatically. In constant dollars, the amount spent on House and Senate races in 1976 -- 1976 -- was $318 million. By 1986, the total had risen to $645 million. And in 1996, to $765 million. If you include the presidential campaigns, over a billion dollars was spent in the last election, and as the need for money escalates, the influence of those who give it rises exponentially.

Three: Reform must level the playing field between challengers and incumbents. Our bill achieves this goal by recognizing the fact that incumbents almost always raise more money than challengers, and as a general rule, the candidate with the most money wins.

Title I of the modified bill seeks to reduce the influence of special interest money in campaigns by banning the use of soft money in federal races. Soft money would be allowed for state parties in accordance with state law. In the first half of 1997 alone, a record $34 million of soft money flowed to political coffers. That staggering amount represents a 250 percent increase in soft money contributions over the same period in 1993.

We do differentiate between state and federal activities. Soft money contributed to state parties could be used for any and all state candidate activities. Soft money given to the state could be used for any state electioneering activity.

MCCAIN: If a state allows soft money to be used in a gubernatorial race, a state senate race, or the local sheriff's race, it would still be allowed under this bill. However, if a state party uses soft money to indirectly influence a federal race, such activity would be banned 120 days prior to the general election; voter registration and general campaign advertising would be allowed except 120 days prior to the election.

To compensate for the loss of soft money, our legislation doubles the limit that individuals can give to state parties in hard money. The aggregate contribution limit in hard money that individuals can donate would rise to 30,000 dollars.

Our soft money band would serve two purposes. First, it would reduce the amount of money in campaigns.Second, it would cause candidates to spend more time campaigning for small donor donations from people back home.

Title II of the modified legislation seeks to limit the role of independent expenditures in political campaigns. The bill does not ban, curb or control real independent non-coordinate expenditures in any manner. Any genuinely independent expendi-ture made to advocate any cause which does not expressly advocate the election the defeat of a candidate is fully allowed. The bill does responsibly expand the definition of express-advocacy, which the courts have ruled Congress may do.

In fact, the current standards for express-advocacy were derived from the Buckley v. Valeo case. As we all know, that Supreme Court case stated that campaign spending cannot be mandatorily capped. This bill is fully consistent with the Buckley decision and I would ask unanimous consent that a letter signed by 120 constitutional scholars, which testifies to the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold be included in the record at this time.

CHAIRMAN?: Without objection, so ordered.

MCCAIN: Our bill establishes a so-called bright line test 60- days out from an election. Any independent expenditure that falls within that 60-days window could not use a candidate's name or likeness. Ads could run which advocate any number of causes. Pro- life ads, pro-choice ads, anti-labor ads, pro-wilderness ads, pro-Republican party ads, pro-Democratic party ads, all could be aired in the last sixty days. However, ads mentioning the candidates could not.

If soft money is banned to political parties, money would inevitably flow to independent campaign organizations. These groups run ads that event the candidates that benefit from them often disapprove of. Further, these ads are almost always negative attacks on a candidate and do little to further healthy political debate.

As we all know, they are usually intended to defeat a candidate and are often in reality coordinated with the campaign of that candidate's opponent. They are not genuinely independent, nor are they strictly concerned with issue-advocacy. Our bill explicitly protects voter guides. I believe this is a very important point. Some groups have already unfairly criticized our original bill when they argued that it prohibited the publication and distribution of voter guides and voting records. While I view those arguments as misinformation, the sponsors have nevertheless, worked to make our legislation even more explicit in its protection of such activities.

Let me stress, so no one can have any grounds to assume otherwise. This legislation completely protects voter guides. I will read the provision addressing this matter in the hope that it will allay any and all concerns about voter guides.

"Voter record and voting record exception. The term express- advocacy shall not include a printed communication which is limited solely to presenting information in an educational manner about the voting record or positions on campaign issues of two or more candidates, and which is not made in coordination with a candidate or political party or agency thereof."

MCCAIN: In the case of a voter guide based on a questionnaire, all candidates for a particular seat or office have been provided with an equal opportunity to respond, gives no candidate any greater prominence than any other candidate, does not contain a phrase such as vote for, reelect, support, cast your ballot for, name of candidate for Congress, name of candidate in 1997, vote against, defeat, or reject, or a campaign slogan or words, which in context, can have not reasonable meaning other than to urge the election or defeat of one or more candidates.

Mr. President, I hope this clear and concise language dispels any rumor that this modified legislation will adversely affect voter guides.

Title III of the bill mandates greater disclosure. The bill mandates all FEC filings documenting campaign receipts and expenditures be made electronically and that they then be made accessible to the public on the Internet not later than 24 hours after the information is received by the Federal Election Commission.

Additionally, current law allows for campaigns to make a best effort to obtain the name, address, and occupation, information of the donors of contributions above $200. Our bill would eliminate that waiver. If a campaign cannot obtain the address and occupation of a donor, then the donation cannot and should not be accepted.

The bill mandates random audits of campaigns. Such audits would only occur after an affirmative vote of at lease four of the six members of the FEC. This will prevent the use of audits as a purely partisan attack. The bill also mandates that cam-paigns seek to receive name, address, and employer information for contributions over $50. Such information will enable the public to have a better knowledge of all who give to political campaigns.

Title IV of the modified bill seeks to encourage individuals to limit the amount of personal money they spend on their own campaigns. If an individual voluntarily elects to limit the amount of money he or she spends in his or her own race to $50,000, then the national parties are able to use funds known as coordinated expenditures to aid such candidates. If candi-dates refuse to limit their own personal spending, then the parties are prohibited from contributing coordinated funds to the candidate.

This provision serves to limit the advantages that wealthy candidates enjoy, and strengthen the party system by encouraging candidates to work more closely with the parties.

Lastly, the bill codifies the Beck decision. The Beck decision states that a non-union employee working in a closed-shop union workplace, and who is required to contribute funds to the union, can request and be assured that his or her money will not be used for political purposes. I personally support much stronger language. I believe that no individual, union member or not, should be required to contribute to political activities. However, I recognize that such stronger language would invite a filibuster of this bill and would doom its final passage.

As a result, I will fight to preserve the delicately balanced language of the bill, and will oppose amendments offered on both sides of the aisle that would result in killing campaign finance reform.

Mr. President, what I've outlined is a basic summary of our modifications to the original bill. I've heard many colleagues say they could not support S-25, the original McCain-Feingold bill, for a wide variety of reasons. Some opposed spending limits, others opposed free or reduced rate broadcast time. Others could not live with postal subsidies to candidates. Others complained that nothing was being done about labor. I hope that all my colleagues who raised such concerns will take a new and open-minded look at this bill. Gone are spending limits, gone is free broadcast time, gone are reduced rate TV time and postal subsidies, and we've sought to address the problem of undue influence being exercised by labor unions.

All the excuses of the past are gone.

MCCAIN: Mr. President, on Monday I will review the provisions of the substitute again, and will lay the modified bill before the Senate with my friend Senator Feingold. I will look forward to discussing the specifics of the measure at that time.

Mr. President, the sponsors of this legislation claim no exclusive right to campaign finance reform. We offer good, fair, necessary reform, but certainly not a perfect remedy. We welcome good-faith amendments intended to improve the legislation.

But I beg my colleagues not to propose amendments designed to kill this bill by provoking a filibuster from one party or the other. The sponsors of this legislation intend to have votes on all relevant issues involved in campaign finance reform. And we will use every resource we have under Senate rules to insure that we do.

If we cannot agree on every aspect of reform, if we have differences about what constitutes genuine and necessary reform, and we hold these differences honestly—so be it. Let us try to come to terms with those differences fairly.

Let us find common ground and work together to adopt those basic reforms we can all agree on. That is what the sponsors of this legislation have attempted to do.

And we welcome anyone's help to improve upon our proposal, as long as that help is sincere and intended to reach the common goal of genuine campaign finance reform.

Mr. President, when I was a young man a long time ago, I would respond aggressively and often irresponsibly to anyone who questioned my honor. I'm not a young man now. And while I have been known to occasionally forget the discretion which is expected of a person of my years and station, I lack both the will and the ability to address attacks upon my honor in the manner I once addressed them.

I now prefer to clear up peacefully the misunderstandings that may cause someone to question my honor. That is the task which I believe the sponsors of McCain-Feingold have undertaken.

I remember how zealously as a boy I would attend the needs of his self-respect. But as I grow older, and as the challenges to my self- respect grow more varied, I was surprised to discover that, while my sense of honor had matured, it's defense mattered even more to me than it did when I believed that honor was such a vulnerable thing that my empty challenge threatened it.

Now I find myself faced with a popular challenge to the honor of a profession of which I am a willing and proud member. It is imperative that we do all we can to address the causes of the people's mistrust.

Meaningful campaign finance reform will not cure public cynicism about modern politics, nor will it completely free politics from influence peddling. But coupled with other reforms, it may prevent cynicism from becoming utter alienation as Americans begin to see that their elected representatives value their reputations more than their incumbency.

I hope it would even encourage more Americans to seek public office, not for the honorifics bestowed upon election winners, but for the honor of serving a great nation.

Mr. President, we must not fear to take risks for our country. We must not value the privileges of power so highly that we use our power unfairly and subordinate the country's interests to our own comfort.

We may think that we trade on America's good name to stay in office and shine the luster of our professional reputations. But the public's growing disdain for us is a stain upon our honor, and that is an injury which none of us should suffer quietly.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Unknown - Indicates Speaker Unkown
Inaudible - Could not make out what was being said.
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