March 19, 2001
McConnell Denials of Money-Legislation Link Are Implausible; Campaign Finance Reform Essential to Giving Americans a Voice in Government
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
Today, debate begins in the Senate over campaign finance reform ? a debate that at long last has a very real shot of leading to change.
But the public is battling many people who don?t want change, who have feasted on today?s legalized bribery and corruption. One of those ? in fact, the leading opponent of campaign finance reform ? is Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the chief fundraiser for Senate Republicans in the last two election cycles and the King of Prevaricators.
Among the industries he has tapped for boatloads of money is the casino gambling industry, as Public Citizen documented in a recent report. At the same time, he worked behind the scenes to block a bill that the casino industry strongly opposed. The bill would have outlawed gambling on college sports in Nevada; this legalized gambling is a major loophole that undercuts the prohibition in all other states.
But yesterday, on Meet the Press, McConnell denied that he played any role at all in stopping the bill. He misled the press and the public about his insider activities and his role in preventing Senate consideration of the legislation. He even claimed he supported the bill, which he has never done until the report was issued last Thursday.
Amazingly, he also denied ? with a straight face ? any connection between campaign contributions and legislation.
He totally lost all credibility with that ridiculous statement. Everybody in America knows that the industries that throw cash at the lawmakers get their way on bills. It happens every day.
Why is Senator McConnell issuing denials? Is he embarrassed about his role in the campaign money machine? Does he have something to hide?
The fact is that big money drowns out the voices of average Americans. Polluters give cash to block measures to clean up the air and water. HMOs use it to ensure that their customers can?t hold them accountable for denying necessary care. Drug companies use it to keep the prices of drugs higher than most people can afford.
Members of Congress spend uncounted hours on the telephone begging for money and cozying up to corporate lobbyists with their hands out. And powerful members shake down business lobbyists who want action — or inaction — on a particular bill. You may not be able to buy a member of Congress but you can definitely rent one.
Americans know what?s going on in Washington and they?re tired of the sellout. The more money in politics, the less their votes count.
The McCain-Feingold bill would rightly ban the most corrupting kind of money we see in politics today — soft money.
But opponents of reform have offered an alternative, a false tradeoff. In exchange for banning some soft money, they want to triple the amount that individuals can give directly to candidates, known as hard money.
This is a terrible idea. The wealthy already give the most money to candidates. This proposal would only allow them to give more and further tilt public policy toward the elite in our society. As Warren Buffet said yesterday on This Week, this would create “a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy and for the wealthy.”
Tripling the hard money limit would let 80 percent of the soft money banned by McCain-Feingold back into the system. That?s not reform. That?s a fraud. Corporations would be able to bundle tens of thousands of dollars from their executives and their wives and children to reward politicians for doing their bidding. Candidates would be more attentive to the interests of the wealthy by doing such things as cutting taxes for big businesses.
Increasing the hard money limits means more money in politics, and that?s just what we don?t need.
I?ve always thought of retirement as a time to relax. Granny D is spending her retirement on her feet ? walking across the country, and — for the next two weeks — walking around this building to call attention to the need for campaign finance reform.
Let?s give Granny D the retirement she deserves.
Let?s pass the McCain-Feingold bill, so we can take back our government and let the American public call the shots.