McCain Claims ''Momentum'' for Campaign Finance Reform

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - During the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) clashed with George W. Bush over the need for campaign finance reform. Monday, just two days after Bush was sworn in as the nation's 43rd president, McCain introduced a campaign finance reform bill, saying he's confident about its passage because of its "momentum" in Congress.

During a news conference, McCain's co-sponsor, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) added that the "Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2001" is not intended as a challenge to President Bush, despite Bush's refusal to support the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform plan during the last campaign.

McCain, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, called his legislation "simple, bipartisan" and has three primary objectives that he believes will "go far to reform our electoral system."

The legislation would ban the use of soft money in federal elections. Soft money is that which political parties receive from wealthy donors, corporations and unions. Since there are no current legal limits on soft money contributions, donors can potentially use the money for influence peddling or to gain access to important politicians.

The McCain bill would also force independent organizations to disclose their electioneering communications. And it would codify the U.S. Supreme Court's "Beck" decision, which concluded that union workers are not to be forced to pay dues that are used solely for political purposes.

McCain said this was "a court decision effectively ignored by the previous administration," but promised that under his campaign finance reform initiative, the Beck decision "would be strictly enforced."

The Beck ruling means that any worker who objects to his union's use of dues money for purposes not directly related to collective bargaining is entitled to a refund of that portion of his dues.

Many conservatives call the Beck decision a "triumph of individual rights over the political weight of union leaders."

McCain vows the legislation will treat both labor unions and corporations in the same manner.

"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," McCain said.

McCain believes campaign finance reform was a message the American people sent to politicians in the November election.

"After one of the closest elections in our nation's history, there's one thing that the American people are unanimous about: they want their government back. We can do that by ridding 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," McCain said.

"This is not a perfect bill," McCain added. "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."

Feingold insisted the bill was not an attempt to corner the new president.

"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," Feingold said.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) also announced her support for McCain's bill, especially since her amendment, dealing with ads paid for by labor unions and corporations, will be included in the legislation.

"As we know, in third party campaign ads, there are no funding restrictions, and there are no disclosure requirements. We will prevent unions and corporations from contributing to financing ads, 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary," Snowe said.

However, Snowe insists the legislation will not violate the "freedom of speech rights" of those organizations wanting to run political ads.

"We just want to know who you are, because many of those ads are designed to influence the outcome of a federal election. We know that if we do nothing, it will get worse and we know it has gotten worse. I hope that we can demonstrate to the American people, that we do indeed intend to govern differently," Snowe said.

It's unclear when the campaign finance reform legislation will reach the Senate floor. McCain says negotiations with the Senate leadership are continuing.

Reps. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) indicated they will sponsor campaign finance reform in the House as well.