McCain and Feingold pitch finance plan

Mindy Hagen

Continuing their six-year fight to pass bipartisan campaign finance reform legislation, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) brought their quest to Northwestern on Monday, trying to drum up support from students and community members.

About 375 people packed Fisk Hall 217 for a question-and-answer session about the proposed McCain-Feingold bill. Many people, however, were turned away or told to watch the event over a live Webcast in Fisk 201 because of limited seating.

The McCain-Feingold bill is set to be heard before the Senate at the end of March. The bill would ban the soft money that corporations, special interest groups and wealthy individuals give political parties to finance campaigns.

McCain, who challenged George W. Bush in the Republican presidential primaries last year, said the American people are demanding change in a “corrupt system.”

“We need to take government out of the hands of special interests and give it back to the people of this country,” he said. “It’s very difficult trying to do the Lord’s work in the city of Satan, and we need your help.”

North Shore Reps. Mark Kirk (R-10th) and Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) kicked off the NU event by introducing the senators.

Schakowsky said she was proud the senators chose to bring their message to her district.

“Today our district will take a big step forward in helping to solve the problems of campaign finance reform and make a more even political playing field,” she said. “We are looking for support in the community that will make legislation a reality.”

Feingold said that because soft money is allowed, government is a less inclusive place.

“When I decided to go into politics, no one said you had to be rich to win,” he said. “Unless we get rid of the soft money loophole, this is not true now. We’ve stayed at it for five-and-a-half years and now we are almost there.”

In past years, the bill has died on the Senate floor in a filibuster, which prolongs debate in an attempt to kill the legislation. But McCain and Feingold said they are confident they have the required 60 Senate votes to block a filibuster this year.

“We are on the verge of winning this thing, and it will be partly your victory,” Feingold said. “If we get the reforms we are talking about, this could change the face of Congress.”

But some audience members asked pointed questions about the bill, questioning whether it would compromise freedom of speech.

“This is a tough issue because people have a right to spend their own money how they want,” McCain said. “However, we can say that once one candidate spends a certain amount of their own money, the restrictions would be lifted on their opponent.”

Weinberg sophomore Steve McKee said some of the issues raised about freedom of speech changed his opinions.

“I came to the meeting pro-campaign finance reform, but now I’m against some of the constitutional issues,” he said. “Government shouldn’t regulate what people can say or do with their money.”

Feingold told The Daily after the event that he was glad the meeting wasn’t “just a pep rally, but a real town hall meeting.”

“This was a great gathering with a good variety of people,” he said. “The questions were both supportive and challenging.”

Courtney Brunsfeld, president of College Democrats, said it was important the senators clarified the bill, especially to those with concerns.

“I thought the meeting was a great forum for students and the community to learn about campaign finance reform,” said Brunsfeld, a Weinberg sophomore. “We heard a good cross- section of how people feel about the issues.”

Members of Common Cause, a coalition fighting for political reform that sponsored the event, said they were pleased with how it turned out.

“The crowd had a lot of energy and was very well-informed,” said Susan Quatrone, a spokeswoman for the organization. “This is a key time for us, so we need to get people active.”

McCain said citizens should make members of Congress understand that campaign finance reform is a high-profile issue.

“The time that really matters is between now and when the bill comes up at the end of March,” he said. “It is absolutely up to you to flood the offices of your senators and representatives in Washington if you care about this issue.”

The senators also addressed the concern that amendments to the bill would dilute it to the point where it wouldn’t have an effect.

But McCain said, “We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Feingold said he is adamant in banning soft money, even if some other elements of the bill “have to fall by the wayside.”

“The fact remains that we still need reform,” he said. “Both parties are to blame in accepting soft money, and both have a responsibility to work to clean up the system.”