April 2, 2001
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
On Passage of McCain-Feingold Bill
Senate passage of the McCain-Feingold bill marks a major turning point in the health of our nation?s democracy. This legislation will go a long way toward restoring decency and integrity to our political system, which has been thoroughly corrupted by the constant scramble for big money by our elected officials.
Contrary to the apocalyptic predictions of reform opponents, McCain-Feingold will not weaken the two major political parties, which thrived nicely for decades before the soft money loophole was discovered and exploited so prodigiously in the 1990s. In fact, because wealthy corporations, unions and individuals will no longer be able to write million-dollar checks, the parties could actually be revitalized because they will now need to return to the grass roots for political support.
While the banning of soft money and the regulation of sham issue ads is a giant step forward, the Senate regrettably decided to double the current hard money contribution limit to $2,000 per election. Most Americans cannot afford to donate to political campaigns, so this provision will only strengthen the influence of the wealthy and serve to further entrench incumbents. Along with other hard money increases, it will likely bring more than $200 million in new large-donor money into political campaigns. Another misguided provision is the “millionaires amendment,” which permits opponents of wealthy, self-financed candidates to accept contributions up to six times the limits for other candidates.
Despite these amendments, the bill on the whole is progressive and is a necessary first step toward fully reforming our campaign finance system. We urge the House to pass it quickly and President Bush to sign it.
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, Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold, as well as Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who played an extremely important role in defeating anti-reform amendments. Many others deserve praise, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, who successfully sponsored an amendment to encourage continuation of existing limits on party spending for candidates; Democratic Sens. Paul Wellstone, Tom Harkin and John Kerry, who strongly opposed increased hard money limits and put forth proposals favoring public financing; and Republican Sens. Thad Cochran, Jim Jeffords, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Fred Thompson and Arlen Specter, whose support was critical for the success of the bill.