McCain attacks campaign finance during local stop |

McCain attacks campaign finance during local stop

U.S. Senator and presidential-hopeful John McCain reminded a packed house at Paepcke Auditorium Monday of his fast-held belief that the existing system of campaign finance is rotting the political system at its core and bankrupting the people of their faith in government.

McCain spent more than an hour yesterday discussing that and other issues with several hundred locals and visitors who crammed into the auditorium. The topics ranged from campaign finance reform – the center plank of McCain’s platform – to abortion and tax cuts and environmental regulation.

Much of his daylong visit was in fact spent at The Aspen Institute, where he met privately with a group of corporate executives attending a leadership seminar before answering questions from the general public. McCain ended his day with a fund-raiser.

The senior Republican senator from Arizona made a point of saying he is not against paying for political campaigns with limited contributions from individuals and political action committees. But he used most of his 10-minute opening speech to rally against large contributions, known as soft money, from corporations and political action committees that are ostensibly used by political parties for “issue advertising” and “voter education,” but are, in reality, attack ads on opposing candidates.

“The existing campaign finance system is nothing less than a vote-selling scheme to sell political power to the highest bidder,” he said.

In answer to the broadly held belief that limits on campaign contributions violate the First Amendment right of free speech, McCain noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s long history of upholding such limits. Beginning in 1907 when Congress outlawed direct contributions to candidates from corporations, the court has upheld laws passed in 1947 and 1974 setting limits on contributions from labor unions and individuals.

“That is why claims of First Amendment protection for soft money are so absurd,” he said.

He promised to team up once again with Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold to co-sponsor campaign finance-reform legislation, an annual effort for the past several years that has yet to be voted on by the full Senate because of stiff opposition from the Senate’s leadership.

“Whoever believes the total of our nation’s greatness is more than the sum of its special interests should stand by me,” McCain said.

As soon as the senator finished his speech, he was hit with a question about his stance on abortion. Although he is pro-life, McCain said he does not think overturning court rulings that uphold a woman’s right to an abortion are the solution. He said he would instead look for ways to reduce the number of abortions performed annually.

His answer apparently didn’t satisfy some of the more ardent on the issue of abortion rights. The subject came up three more times, and each time he reiterated his call for the Republican Party to move away from absolute opposition to abortion and open itself to people with different points of view.

McCain touted his environmental credentials when asked about the current efforts to protect large tracts of wilderness. “I had the opportunity to work with [former Arizona Senator] Morris Udall to put millions of acres of forest into wilderness into Arizona.”

But he also said he is in favor of repealing the controversial Endangered Species Act, and replacing it with a law aimed at ecosystem management, protection and restoration. McCain added that a national dialogue is needed to settle some of the more contentious environmental issues.

“Too often, environmental groups find no Republican is acceptable, and so-called “Western interests” find no Democrat acceptable. I think you’ll also find special interests play a big role in keeping us from coming together,” he said.

A veteran of the Vietnam war who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war, McCain gained national attention when he criticized Clinton for his very public stance against sending ground troops into the Balkans. He said yesterday that he thought the conflict would have ended sooner if the NATO alliance had mobilized ground troops, even if it didn’t plan to use them, as suggested by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

McCain also said he would have been more cautious than Clinton about expanding NATO into Eastern Europe.

The senator might be the only Republican who is not waving around a plan to use the budget surpluses anticipated over the next decade to cut the tax on capital gains – profits realized on investment income such as real estate or stocks.

Instead, McCain said he’d like to eliminate the tax penalty which requires many married couples to shell out more income tax than if they were single, drastically cut estate taxes, and expand the breadth of the lowest tax bracket so that everyone earning less than $70,000 would only pay 15 percent.

He said he would rather see the surplus used for those ends as well as shoring up Social Security and reducing the national debt before using it to cut capital gains.

Asked how he hoped to compete against Texas Gov. George Bush and the $36 million-plus he’s already raised in campaign contributions, McCain admitted that he might not.

“I’m not afraid of losing. I’ve had a wonderful life and I’m going to run on principles, and have a good time doing it,” he answered.

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