Alliance Position on McCain-Feingold-Cochran Bill

The MFC bill must be seen in the larger context, in relation to overall campaign finance problems we face: inequality, bribery, and conflict of interest.

There are two central, over-riding problems, or injustices, that stem from the current campaign finance system. The first is rampant inequality: those without access to big money are disadvantaged, if not disenfranchised ? as candidates (can?t afford a competitive campaign), voters (no one to vote for but the candidates of big money), and constituents (can?t get the ear of the people you elect).

And the second is thinly-veiled bribery coupled with gross conflict of interest: big-money contributors get privileged access and influence with elected policy-makers causing the public interest (re the environment, health care, jobs and wages, disarmament, etc.) to be short-changed in favor of big-money interests (profits for major corporations).

The MFC bill does not address these problems in any significant way.

At best, the MFC bill will remove the most flagrant form of political bribery: "soft" (i.e., unregulated) money. But qualified candidates without access to big money will still be disadvantaged or unable to run. And those who do run will still be 100% dependent on private sources of money ("hard" money) in order to fuel their election and re-election campaigns ? and most of this money will still come from wealthy individuals and giant corporations. (Corporations out-contribute labor unions by over 10-to-1.) None of President Bush?s (or any other presidential candidate?s) money during the primaries was soft money; there is little or no soft money in congressional races. And all the soft money in the 1999-2000 elections cycle only comprised about 20% of the total amount of private money raised. So if soft money is banned, what will change? In one sense, banning soft money will simply make it cheaper for big-money interests to buy access and influence (which perhaps explains why a growing number of corporate CEO?s are calling for a soft money ban).

Neither the MFC bill, nor most members of Congress, nor most of the reform community is addressing the central, inescapable contradiction that gives rise to these problems: public servants taking money from private sources.

Instead, most reformers are saying that THE problem, or a major part of it, is soft money, and that once soft money is eliminated, the system will be much fairer and more democratic and less dominated by big-money interests. The implication is that somehow soft money is "bad" money and "hard" money is "good". This simply is not true. The focus of real reform must be the system?s built-in dependence on private money per se, hard as well as soft. In a society in which money is so unequally and unjustly distributed, real democracy is impossible as long as those we want to be our elected representatives in government ? our public servants ? must have or raise large sums of money from private sources.

The only way to resolve this contradiction is by making it possible for candidates to run for public office without having to take money from private sources. This requires full public financing of campaigns.

We?ll never get all private money out of politics, in the broadest sense of the word "politics", but we can and should eliminate it as much as possible from election campaigns. Unless or until the Supreme Court?s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision is overturned, candidates cannot be prohibited from accepting, nor individual donors prohibited from giving, private contributions. But Buckley does not prohibit Congress from creating a voluntary full-public-financing alternative, as has been done effectively at the state level in Maine and Arizona. Under such a system, if a candidate chooses to reject public financing and raise private funds instead, the voters will know it and take that into account.

Because a full public financing system, in order to be effective, must include the kind of "soft" money ban and phony "issue ad" regulation contained in the MFC bill, the Alliance will support the MFC bill or any other legislation that does these things ? as long as such legislation does not raise the current limits on "hard" money contributions.

Unfortunately, the bill introduced in the Senate last month by Senators McCain, Feingold, and Cochran was already compromised in this regard. In order to attract more Republican support, the bill doubles the limit on hard money that individuals can contribute annually to state political parties (from $5,000 to $10,000) and it increases the aggregate amount of hard money that individuals can annually give to parties, PACs, and candidates pcombined (from $25,000 to $30,000). Furthermore, there is strong pressure on the sponsors of the bill to allow a major increase in the amount of hard money individuals can contribute to federal candidates (from $1,000 to $2,000 or $3,000). As a recent study by Public Campaign has shown, such increases, even with soft money banned, will result in at least as much hard money being raised and spent as is raised and spent now in soft and hard money combined. But, again, the problem is not so much the amount of money as the sources ? and the sources will not change.

The Alliance calls upon the reform community and reform-minded Members of Congress to speak the truth to the American people about what is really needed in order to create a campaign finance system that is consistent with the sacred principles of our democracy: political equality and public accountability.

To say or imply that banning soft money and instituting some modest regulation of phony issue ads will make any real difference is to perpetrate a fraud on the American people and to cause them to be even more cynical once they discover that the passage of this legislation has made no noticeable difference.