McCain: New administration marks 'perfect time' to push for campaign finance reform
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rejecting suggestions that he was trying to upstage his former primary rival, Sen John McCain, R- Arizona, Sunday defended his plans to push for a major campaign finance reform bill within days of George W. Bush's inauguration.
"We think it would be a perfect time to have a bipartisan piece of legislation," McCain said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Several Republicans, including Majority Leader Trent Lott, had urged McCain to wait for President-elect George W. Bush to settle into office before pushing the reform bill he has crafted with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin. The measure would regulate "soft-money" contributions -- unlimited donations to political parties that often are used on behalf of candidates.
As he has before, McCain faulted members of his own party for blocking votes on the legislation in the past.
"Republicans now know that we have to take up the issue," McCain said. "The question is not whether, but when. I think it can best be accomplished early. And by the way, how can we reform any other institutions of government -- whether it be education, the tax code or the military -- unless we reduce the influence of the special interests? We can't."
The maverick Republican made campaign finance reform his signature issue during his failed bid to win the GOP presidential nomination. He clashed bitterly with Bush during the primary season but later endorsed him for president.
McCain rejected the claim of one caller to the program that he was a sore loser.
"The sooner that we act, I think the better off we're going to be, and I hope to convince the president and Trent Lott of that," McCain said.
McCain described Bush as "committed to reform," but he criticized the president-elect's main objection to his bill -- that union members are not given a choice on whether their dues can be diverted to political candidates. Bush has called for so-called paycheck protection to accomplish that goal.
"It's a straw man to the degree that it is the soft money -- the unregulated, unreported donations in huge amounts of money -- that would be stopped by our legislation, and that would affect labor unions, trial lawyers, corporations, all kinds of other interest groups and big money that is now coming into Washington," McCain said. "All of us know, who work in Washington, that the big-money special interests are sitting in the front row with megaphones, and the average American is sitting in the back whispering. And that's why we're gridlocked."
Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Sen. Don Nickles, R-Oklahoma, a member of the GOP leadership, predicted that McCain and Lott would agree on a schedule for the bill and "dispose of it fairly this year."