March 29, 2001
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
On Anticipated Passage of McCain-Feingold Bill
The key votes have been taken, and the McCain-Feingold bill is headed for Senate approval. This hard-fought legislation takes three giant steps forward in campaign finance reform. It will ban soft money, stop corporate and union financing of sham “issue ads” and require broadcasters to lower the cost of candidate and party ads. These reforms will help the American people recapture their government.
Unfortunately, the price of these reforms takes us one major step backward: it increases the maximum limits on hard money contributions to candidates and parties. The doubling of the $1,000 limit on individual contributions to candidates is an insult to democracy. It will fuel, not lessen, candidates? race for big money and discourage people from challenging incumbents. Along with other hard money increases, it will likely bring more than $200 million in new large donor money into political campaigns. With almost half the cost of these campaigns already paid by $1,000-plus donors, this is not good news for the average American.
Despite this cost, the bill on the whole is progressive. It will outlaw the biggest contributions from special interests — soft money that goes to national parties, state parties and interest groups to influence federal elections — which added up to as much as $750 million in the 2000 election. This legislation is a necessary first step toward fully reforming our campaign finance system. Unfortunately, the “millionaires amendment,” which permits opponents of millionaires to take contributions up to six times the limits for other candidates, is misguided. It would allow wealthy contributors to combat wealthy candidates by corrupting his or her opponent.
Public Citizen is proud to have participated with other groups in a nationwide grassroots movement for the McCain-Feingold bill. And we are proud of the two dedicated leaders, John McCain and Russ Feingold, who have led this fight for so many years. Many others deserve praise, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who worked hard against anti-reform amendments; Senator Chuck Schumer, who successfully sponsored an amendment to encourage continuation of existing limits on party spending for candidates; Democratic Senators Paul Wellstone, Tom Harkin and John Kerry who strongly opposed increased hard money limits and put forth proposals favoring public financing; and Republican Senators Thad Cochran, Jim Jeffords, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Fred Thompson and Arlen Specter, whose support was critical for the success of the bill.
We are achingly near enacting the most important campaign finance legislation in 25 years and closing, at long last, the loophole that has made a mockery of existing campaign law. We sincerely hope the House passes and the president signs this bill.