Statement on Campaign Finance Reform

Senate Committee on Rules and Administration

Feb 01 1996

Washington, D.C.- Today Senator John McCain testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee regarding campaign finance reform, and gave the following statement: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this important hearing. I know that real campaign finance reform is not anticipated with widespread delight in Congress, but the public's enthusiasm for reform is considerable and compelling. You scheduled this hearing in recognition of the public's genuine interest in reform, and I strongly commend you for doing so. Mr. Chairman, fourteen members of both parties in the Senate and a bipartisan group of House Members believe that reasonable limits on campaign spending, combined with certain other changes in law, is an appropriate response to public's just demand for campaign finance reform. Those changes form the essence of S. 1219, the McCain-Feingold-Thompson Campaign Finance Reform bill. Our bill is not perfect. But we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I am sure that other witnesses here today, as well as many who serve on this Committee, will have suggestions for how we may improve this bill. I welcome their comments and insights. And let me assure all my colleagues, if any member of Congress should propose another different model of campaign finance reform that satisfies the public's concerns, and attracts broad, bipartisan support, I will endorse it. But considering the difficulties we encountered in reconciling those two objectives in our own bill, I doubt that any bill could accomplish the task without the provisions we have adopted. The McCain-Feingold-Thompson bill contains numerous provisions -- limited free broadcast time, reduced mailings, special broadcast advertising rates, and in-state minimum contribution requirements -- that will level the playing field for challengers and incumbents and give non- wealthy candidates the opportunity to challenge candidates prepared to spend exorbitantly from their own wealth for the office they seek. Further, although the bill contains campaign expenditure limits, they are high enough to allow a candidate to effectively communicate his or her message to the voter. In the interest of brevity, Mr. Chairman, I will not detail all the provisions of S. 1219, but ask that a summary of the bill be a part .of the Committee record. Mr. Chairman, I want to make two important points up front. One, this is the first bi-partisan campaign finance reform bill in over a decade. Any bill without strong support from members of both parties is doomed to failure because one party will never let the other rig the system in its favor. Republicans did not allow the Democrats to do so when they were in power, and Democrats will not allow us to do so now. S. 1219 has bi-partisan support because it does not favor either party. Although the bill contains provisions that some perceive as benefitting one party or another, in its totality the bill stakes the middle ground. It is for that reason that nearly 50 editorials from around the country have been written in support of this bill. Newspapers as diverse as The New York Times, The Roanoke Times and World News, the Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and The Kansas City Star have all endorsed this bill. I ask that a complete list of these editorials be made a part of the record. If we are committed to changing the status quo, then we must work in an bi-partisan manner on this issue. Others will testify here today offering different approaches to reform. I hope the Committee will keep in mind that as good as some of those measures may be, unless they attract the kind of diverse support S. 1219 has, none of them will ever become law, and this Congress will lose -- perhaps forever -- an opportunity that is now almost within our grasp to diminish the influence of money in elections, and the consequent public perception that we who are privileged to work in this most noble of democratic institutions serve only at the sufferance of special interests. Mr. Chairman, we must level the political playing field so that message, and not money, will more consistently determine the outcome of federal elections. Reasonable spending limits combined with certain incentives will do more to achieve this goal than any other contemplated reform. Analysis of past races shows that -- with few exceptions -- incumbents raised and spent considerably more money than did challengers and that the candidate who spent the most money usually won the election. This is especially the case for millionaire candidates who are willing to use their own wealth to overwhelmingly outspend by their opponents. It is especially interesting to note that in the most competitive open seats, the candidate who raises the most money usually wins the election. The non-partisan Congressional Research Service has compiled an analysis of congressional races in recent years and the conclusion of that study confirms our assertion that the candidate who raises and spends the most money usually wins the election. According to CRS: "Winners, on average, raise more money than losers." The Congressional Research Service continues: "Winners have gotten between 20 and 25 percent of their money from PACs; losers have usually gotten between 15 and 20 percent from PACs." Mr. Chairman, we all know that PACs tend to give much more to incumbents than to challengers, serving to entrench incumbents behind a fortress of television and radio advertising purchased with the proceeds of PAC generosity. As CRS noted: "Incumbents have received far more PAC money than challengers, and in growing dollar gaps – from roughly twice in 1980 to nearly five times the amounts in 1992 and 1994. In 1994, PACs gave $26.3 million to incumbents and $4.9 million to challengers." As I have said, there are exceptions to this rule, but they should not be used as the fig leaf behind which we obscure our self interested preservation of the status quo. In election after election, he who spends the most wins. That is a fact that cannot be obscured. And it is that fact which has persuaded the vast majority of Americans that we must reform the way we seek elective office in this country. Mr. Chairman, the Supreme Court has ruled that we cannot prevent someone from spending an unlimited amount of money for a seat in Congress if that candidate is able and willing to do so. Our bill does not seek to amend the Constitution, so we cannot impose an involuntary spending limit. But we can, and our bill does, impose within the election process powerful incentives for candidates to abide by voluntary limits, regardless of their personal wealth or fundraising prowess. Some have suggested that an alternative to voluntary spending limits is to raise the individual contribution limit. However, this will obviously do little to limit the amount that the importance of money in campaigns. Quite the reverse. Thus it is unlikely to dissuade the public's belief that we are bought and paid for by special interests. Moreover, it is no more likely to level the playing field for challengers than the current system does. Such a plan would still discourage prospective candidates of modest means from seeking office when they contemplate the daunting fundraising demands that await them when they challenge an incumbent with exponentially greater resources. Under the current system, an incumbent's access to PAC contributions, and an incumbent's appeal to well represented interests in Washington who place their safe money bets on the advantaged incumbent will almost always allow the incumbent to outspend his or her challenger. Raising the individual contribution limits may occasionally and slightly improve the prospects of candidates opposing millionaires who intend to spend liberally on their campaign from their personal fortunes. But it will not level the playing field as a general rule. The field will be leveled, and millionaires denied a decisive advantage when the laws encourage both millionaires and less fortunate candidates to spend the same amount of money on their campaigns. Then, and only then will ideas and not dollars win elections. Mr. Chairman, poll after poll has revealed the public's urgent insistence that we reform our campaign laws. These polls clearly mark the progress of public sentiment on this question. The people's cynicism over the way we seek office has grown into contempt for the way we retain office. The foundations of self government rest on the public's faith that it works. That faith is shaken today, and when I contemplate this sad development's long term implications for our country, I grow quite fearful for my country. I am not a young man. Our failure to meet the public's demand on this question is unlikely to profoundly change our country for whatever remaining time I am blessed to live here. But it is profoundly saddening to think that the great nation which I have been honored to serve since I was eighteen years old will loose its greatness in a future that I will not see, because the people's faith in their government was squandered by their elected servants at a time when I was privileged to be one of them. I find great personal dishonor in such a prospect. This bill will not cure public cynicism for politics. Nothing can do that. But it will, I believe, prevent cynicism from becoming contempt and contempt from becoming utter alienation. Our bill represents substantial, but necessary change to the status quo -- a status quo within which all of us have done very well. Every member here was elected under the current system. We know how it works, and the advantages it grants us. My strong views on this question have not made me naive. I am aware of how difficult passing real reform will be. We are faced with formidable obstacles. But our appreciation for the political realities and institutional impediments arrayed against campaign finance reform will not extinguish our determination to achieve that reform, because the consequences of failing to act are far more frightening than the contemplation of involuntary retirement. Again, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing and appropriately exercising the responsibility that your constituents have given you. # # #