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Special Event

Campaign Finance Reform: McCain-Feingold Bill to Be Re- Introduced in Senate Today

Aired January 22, 2001 - 11:01 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to start on Capitol Hill -- and that is where our national correspondent Bob Franken -- standing by. He's following this hour's news conference on campaign finance reform, Senator John McCain and others unveiling new legislation.

Bob, this isn't just new legislation that affects how campaigns are run -- this could be the first big political fight of the Bush administration.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And what we have is the same bill, different year, different administration -- John McCain, Russ Feingold now with support from Thad Cochran, an influential senator from Mississippi will be joining members of the House who support sweeping campaign finance reform. The most fundamental part of this is it would putt significant limits on what they call soft money, that is to say, money that can be raised in any amount because, at least in theory, it is not money that is specifically donated to a candidate.

This would also put limitations on these issue advocacy ads, in the belief that ads that are not specifically, directly, legally in support of a candidate are really a subterfuge that they really are, say the people who advocate reform, exactly that.

It would also include some restrictions on union dues for non- union members who are supposed to pay those dues and the use of those dues for campaign financing.

It does not, however, have other provisions that are near and dear to the hearts of Republicans -- such things as a check-off limitation for union members where, in fact, they would be can able to say the money cannot be used for campaign contributions. It would not have an increase in the $1,000-per-person limit on specific hard money, that type of thing.

Here is John McCain now to talk about his legislation.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Today we confront yet again a very serious challenge to our political system. Its as dangerous, in its debasing effect on our democracy, as war and depression have been in the past, and it'll take the best efforts of every public-spirited American to defeat it. We must overcome the cynicism that is growing rampant in our society. We must pass campaign finance reform legislation.

That is why I first want to thank our cosponsors for being here today. They are proof that momentum is on our side, and we will pass campaign finance reform or legislation and finally follow the American people's will. Action on this issue is long-overdue, and I'm hopeful that this year will present us with our best opportunity yet to achieve passage of meaningful campaign finance reform.

Our legislation is simple, bipartisan and achieves three primary objectives that will go far to reform our electoral system. The bill bans soft money for usage in federal elections. It requires increased disclosure of an electioneering communications by so-called independent organizations in a constitutional and clear manner, known as the Snowe-Jeffords language. It codifies the Supreme Court's Beck decision, a court decision effectively ignored by the previous administration and now, under this act, a decision which would be strictly enforced.

After one of the closest elections in our nation's history, there's one thing the American people are unanimous about: They want their government back.

We can do that by riding politics of large, unregulated contributions that give special interests a seat at the table, while average Americans are stuck in the back of the room.

The Senate needs to act early on campaign finance reform so we can achieve meaningful reform and restore the public's faith in our government.

This is not a perfect bill. It does not attempt to solve all the evils that plague our campaign system. But we will not let perfect be the enemy of progress.

We expect amendments to be offered to this legislation, and we fully expect that many of those amendments will be constructive and add to our efforts. We look forward to this kind of positive debate.

Unfortunately, there will also be amendments offered to deal with broader, more controversial topics. Some may offer sweeping election reform legislation or stronger anti-union provisions.

As my partner in this bill has noted, campaigns occur before elections. We must keep that truism in mind and act to reform our campaigns first and then our elections.

Second, whatever bill passes, it must treat our corporate and union constituencies alike. We must resist any measures that skew this bill in favor of any one group. The soft money ban in this bill affects both corporations and unions.

The key to our success now lies with a fair and open debate on this subject. In the past, we've been denied any constructive debate on this matter. I'm hopeful that Senator Lott and Daschle and the cosponsors of the bill can construct a fair, unanimous consent agreement that will allow the Senate to take up and consider numerous amendments, works it will and craft legislation that can and will be signed into law by the president.

That is now our singular goal, and I'm confident that it can be achieved.

On the issue of when the bill will be taken up, I am in negotiation -- Russ and I are in negotiations with Senator Lott, and those negotiations will continue.

I will be meeting with the president, although he does not want to dictate or be involved in the calendar, leaving that to Senator Lott and Senator Daschle.

But let me point out, this week the Senate of the United States is in executive session. Next week, the Senate of the United States, I'm sure, will be in executive session.

We could've taken up this legislation and passed it in a couple or three weeks, but we are still -- still -- willing and want to negotiate a reasonable time that we can take up and address this legislation. But have no doubt that we could've taken it up and probably addressed it and passed it before the first legislative proposal from the Bush administration came over.

I'd like to ask first of all from my partner in crime, Senator Russ Feingold, to make his remarks and then remarks from others before the other important cosponsors of this bill, not the least of which, Senator Thad Cochran, as well as others who have been in this issue from the beginning, including Congressman Shays, who also played a vital role over in the House of Representatives.

Thank you.

Russ?

RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Thank you so much John, Thad, and all of the cosponsors. The group you see here today is representative of not only the majority of the United States Senate but, we think, a filibuster-proof majority of the United States Senate.

We are hoping to have the culmination of this five-year effort the way it began, as a bipartisan effort that can be something that all Americans can feel good about.

I want to just say, very briefly, what this is not: This is not a challenge to our new president. All of us respect our new president and look forward to working with him on many issues. This is an opportunity for cooperation and for real accomplishment with the new administration.

As John indicated, the bill we introduce today has a number of provisions, nothing surprising, but what kind of holds it together is that it reverses the scandals that occurred, especially beginning in 1996. Whether it be the ban on soft money to the parties, or whether it be dealing with phony issue ads, or dealing with the contributions from foreign nationals, or making it absolutely clear that you can't raise money on federal property, it is time to reverse that.

Nobody said it better than our colleague Fred Thompson, who said that since the proliferation of these loopholes, we really don't have any campaign finance laws. This bill, although it doesn't do everything, accomplished that. It's very similar to the great achievements in the House by Representative Shays and Meehan and all the members of the House that they have already gotten through their House.

And, as John said, the goal here is to have an open amending process. Every senator knows this issue; every senator is an expert on this issue. And the proof of how this can work is the work of Senators Snowe and Jeffords, who actually came up with an amendment to deal with a very serious part about this a couple of years ago, we have included it now, and believe that most members of the Senate will approve it.

But, let me reiterate, the goal is to pass a strong bill that our new president will sign. With this group, the president will have an opportunity to see a bill that is represented and supported by all different ideologies in the Senate. Our goal is simple: to get rid of these loopholes that have made a farce out of our election system.

Thanks, John.

THAD COCHRAN (R), MISSISSIPPI: Let me first of all congratulate and thank Senators McCain and Feingold...

KAGAN: We are listening to a number of senators. That we just Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, also Senator John McCain of Arizona, talking about the re-introduction of this campaign finance reform bill on this first day, this first full workday, for President Bush.

This could turn out to be a political battle among the Republicans.

Let's ahead and bring in our Bill Schneider to talk more about what this campaign finance reform is about -- what is it about just as a bill and also what is it about as a political maneuver.

First of all, Bill, is this John McCain trying to stick it to George W. Bush?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I wouldn't say that. He says he expects the president to sign it, and the president has not taken a position on whether he'd would sign it or veto it -- it depends on what is in the final bill that passes Congress.

But it is McCain's effort to show that he thinks he has a mandate coming out of last year's election. He won the New Hampshire primary, he hit a responsive cord with voters. I'm not sure the reason was campaign finance reform; nevertheless, that was the theme of his campaign, and he intends to act as if he has a mandate just as much as George Bush has a mandate.

KAGAN: The new president might not have commented about the specific bill yet, but he has been very plain this is not the first thing he wanted to be addressing in his first week in office. But does it kind of put him in a tough spot if indeed John McCain does have the support in the Senate and it ends going through Congress and they send to it George W. Bush. He is someone who campaigned as a reformer -- can you the down turn a reform bill?

SCHNEIDER: He campaigned as a reformer. There are certain things that he wants in this bill that are not there --for instance, the so-called paycheck provision -- paycheck protection provision -- which would keep unions from spending money for political purposes without getting the explicit permission of their members.

It's not -- what McCain is proposing is not exactly the bill that Bush wants, but he is relying on the Senate and House leadership to modify the McCain-Feingold Bill so that they can produce a bill that Bush can sign. The problem is if they produce a bill that Bush can sign, will Democrats support it -- will the bill even pass. That's still an open question.

KAGAN: It'll be interesting to watch. Now meanwhile, the two topics, I think, that the new president wanted to get to: He wanted to be focusing on education and also that tax cut that he talked about.

SCHNEIDER: That's right, he has his own agenda week-by-week for the next three weeks. He wants this week to be education week. That's among the least controversial programs that he's put forward; it was number one in the priorities of voters. He wants to talk about his initiatives for raising standards in education, increasing the federal role, although school vouchers remains a highly controversial issue.

Next week, he wants to talk about faith-based action, which is efforts to encourage private organizations, religious organizations, to get involved in work to solve social problems like poverty and drug abuse, where he feels that they can do so not only without taxpayer money, but with a values-based approach that's likely to be more effective.

The third week, he has on schedule, of course, his big tax cut. And there what we've found is since the election in November, there's been more and more support for tax cuts, including Democrats, because the economy appears to be faltering, and a lot of people think the tax cuts could give the economy a much-needed boost.

KAGAN: Well, that's the new president's agenda, but if he has more insurrection like this, and more senators, like John McCain, coming out with their own agenda, his biggest problem might be within his own party.

SCHNEIDER: Well, there are splits, of course, within the Republican Party, not so much on those issues that I just listed: The problem with the campaign finance reform issue, of course, is that this is an issue of life and death to members of Congress in both the House and the Senate, because that's how they live and die. You know, Jess Onrue (ph) once said money is the mother's milk of politics.

This bill is going to go through slowly, there are going to be a lot of amendments proposed, a lot of attempts to kill this bill or to modify it to death. I think President Bush has the perfect -- is perfectly calm to wait to see what comes out of Congress. He'll be exercising some influence to try to shape the bill, but before this thing gets through Congress, there are going to be a lot changes.

KAGAN: All right, Bill Schneider, thank you very much for your perspective, from Washington D.C.

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