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Senator McCain to Force Senators to Stand Up and Be Counted on Campaign Finance Reform In July

Senator McCain to Force Senators to Stand Up and Be Counted on Campaign Finance Reform In July

The U.S. Senate will probably begin debating one of the most important bills in Congress as early as the week of July 19. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) have signaled they intend to attach their campaign finance reform bill (S. 26), which has majority support in the Senate (all 45 Democrats and 7 Republicans), to other legislation later this month.

McCain and Feingold are gearing up for a lengthy and determined struggle. The only way they will not get a vote on their proposal is if Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) insists, for the fourth time in two years, on leading a minority filibuster to forestall a democratic vote.

But the political costs of such partisan maneuvering are mounting. Not only is the conservative McCain moving forward more strongly than before, but even Republican Presidential frontrunner George W. Bush now says he is for some measures in the McCain-Feingold bill — including a ban on “soft money” to national parties from corporations and unions. Moreover, the Committee for Economic Development, a prestigious representative of the business community, recently published a report that endorsed the bill?s principal provisions.

Support is rising for McCain-Feingold because conservatives, moderates and liberals increasingly recognize it will remove the corrupting influence of “soft money” — unlimited campaign contributions to political parties from corporations, unions and well-off individuals — from our national political process. (S. 26 also curbs other unregulated donations by subjecting financing for sham TV and radio “issue ads” discussing candidates shortly before elections to the contribution restrictions and disclosure requirements of existing federal campaign laws).

As the enclosed Public Citizen analysis, “Soft Money Hurts Consumers and Taxpayers,” illustrates, the soft money system hits the pocketbooks and influences the quality of life of every American. What Senator McCain recently called, “a campaign finance system that is nothing less than an influence-peddling scheme in which both parties compete to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder,” leads to government decisions increasing prescription drug prices, parceling out special tax breaks to the casino gambling industry, threatening the privacy of consumer information held by financial firms, and interfering with the government?s obligation to protect public health and the environment.

Recently Senate Majority Leader Lott, one of the top Republican Party fund-raisers whose National Republican Senatorial Committee collected 27 percent of the $114 million in soft money the party raked in during 1997-98, responded to Senator McCain?s attack on the campaign finance system by urging him to “concentrate on his presidential campaign.” But that?s just what McCain is doing when he calls for an end to the system of legalized bribery that undermined existing campaign finance law during the last presidential campaign. Has Senator Lott forgotten the $262 million soft money bazaar of 1996 and the resulting Clinton administration Lincoln bedroom and foreign finance scandals?

If nothing is done about soft money, observers expect that the total raised for the 2000 election could double to more than $500 million.

McCain was also right when he said that “Lott and other leaders of our party…are far out of step with the party?s grassroots.” A new Public Citizen study, “Betting on Trent Lott: The Casino Gambling Industry?s Campaign Contributions Pay Off in Congress,” concludes that Lott has been “casino gambling?s most powerful congressional friend.” Lott has acted energetically to protect casino executives from being subpoenaed to testify before the recent National Gambling Impact Study Commission, preserve and expand special government tax breaks for the industry (at a loss to the U.S. taxpayers of $30 million a year), and loosen federal environmental restrictions on casino development along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. (For a summary of this report, see the website noted below).

As Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook commented, “Despite his party?s ?family values? posture and its long courtship of conservative Christians, Sen. Lott has worked quietly but diligently on behalf of the wealthy casino owners who are clearly not interested in what?s best for America?s families, and from them he has received hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Senate floor action on the McCain-Feingold bill is anticipated in July after the scheduled debate on Patients? Rights bills concludes on July 15th. Currently, the companion House Shays-Meehan bill is stalled by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) until mid-September as only 6 of the 54 Republicans who voted for Shays-Meehan have been willing to buck their leaders and sign a “discharge petition” forcing an immediate House vote. Since eventual House passage of Shays-Meehan is likely — it passed in 1998 by 252-179 — the decisive battle will occur in the Senate.

Currently, a majority of 52 out of 100 Senators support McCain-Feingold. While eight more Republican votes would be necessary to overcome the expected filibuster, movement by even two or three Republicans could provide the momentum that would result in significant legislation this year. Most likely Republican senators targeted for support are:

First Tier: Voinovich and DeWine (Ohio), Brownback (Kan.), Hagel (Neb.), Hutchinson (Ark.), Lugar (Ind.).

Second Tier: Abraham (Mich.), Roth (Del.), Smith (Ore.).

One thing is certain: Whatever happens this month in the Senate will shape our nation?s policies for years to come — either positively or negatively.