This is a favorite of mine, available on Senator McCain’s site. But it is so badly formatted on that site, it is almost impossible to read. Here’s a reformatted version (with apologies if the Senator believes there’s a copyright problem with this remix). You can see all McCain’s speeches here. I’ve added some emphasis in places. And you can read about the famous 1999 McCain v. McConnell debate on corruption here.
Bedford, New Hampshire, June 30, 1999 ;Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today delivered the following remarks regarding Campaign Finance Reform.
We are blessed to be Americans, not just in times of prosperity, but at all times. We are a part of something noble; a great experiment to prove to the world that democracy is not only the most effective form of government, but the only moral government.
And, at least in years past, we felt more than lucky to be Americans. We felt proud. But, today, we confront a very serious challenge to our political system, as dangerous in its way as war and depression have been in the past. And it will take the best efforts of every public- spirited American to defeat it.
The threat that concerns me is the pervasive public cynicism that is hurting our democracy.
I’m a conservative, and I believe it is a very healthy thing for Americans to be skeptical about the purposes and practices of public officials and refrain from expecting too much from their government. Self-reliance is the, ethic that made America great.
But healthy skepticism has become widespread cynicism bordering on alienation, and that worries me greatly.
Government is intended to support our constitutional purposes to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
When the people come to believe that government is so corrupt that it no longer serves these ends, our culture could fragment beyond recognition as people seek substitutes for the unifying values of patriotism.
We are a prosperous country, but many Americans, particularly the young, can’t see beyond the veil of their cynicism and indifference. They can’t imagine themselves as part of a cause greater than their self-interest.
And with every new Dow Jones record something gnaws at my conscience, telling me not to be lulled into a false contentment, that something is going wrong with the American way of life.
This country has survived many difficult challenges: a civil war, world war, depression, the civil rights struggle, a cold war. All were just causes. They were good fights. They were patriotic challenges.
Now, we have a new patriotic challenge for a new century: declaring war on the cynicism that threatens our public institutions, our culture, and, ultimately, our private happiness. It is a great and just cause, worthy of our best service.
But those of us privileged to hold public office have ourselves to blame for the sickness in American public life today. It is we who have squandered the public trust.
We who have, time and again, placed our personal and partisan interests before the national interest, earning the public’s contempt for our poll-driven policies, our phony posturing, the lies we call spin and the damage control we substitute for progress.
And we are the defenders of a campaign finance system that is nothing less than an elaborate influence peddling scheme in which both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder.
I want to take our politics and our government back from the special interests. I want to take them back from people like Roger Tamraz, who gave $300,000 to the Democratic Party and when he didn’t get what he wanted, promised to spend “$600,000 next time.”
The opponents of campaign finance reform will tell you the voters, particularly Republican voters, don’t care about this issue.
They are wrong.
Most Americans care very much that it is now legal for a subsidiary of a corporation owned by the Chinese Army to give unlimited amounts of money to American political campaigns.
Most Americans care very much that the Lincoln bedroom has become a Motel 6 where the President of the United States serves as the bellhop.
Most Americans care very much when monks and nuns abandon their vows of poverty and pay tens of thousands of dollars to have spiritual communion with the Vice President.
I think most Republicans are outraged when our party abandons the fight to reform government, to make it smaller and less removed in style and substance from the people it serves.
Most Republicans are outraged when their leaders give up the fight that Ronald Reagan led in order to preserve a financial advantage over the Democrats.
I think most Republicans understand that soft money - the enormous sums of money given to both parties by just about every special interest in the country — corrupts our political ideals whether it comes from big business or from labor bosses and trial lawyers.
I am a conservative and I’m running for President to restore national pride and broaden our freedom by reforming the practices of government and politics. I want to reform our tax code. I want to reduce government by waging a relentless war against wasteful spending. I want to reform and protect Social Security and Medicare. I want to reform our failing education system. I want to restructure our military to defend us against the security threats of the next century. I want to reform our liability laws. I want to genuinely deregulate the telecommunications industry that is the engine of our current prosperity.
All these reforms and more are vitally important to America’s future.
But we won’t reform anything until we first reform the way we finance our political campaigns.
As long as special interests dominate campaigns, they will dominate legislation as well. Until we abolish soft money, Americans will never have a government that works as hard for them as it does for the special interests.
During hearings for the 1996 Telecommunications Act, every company affected by the legislation had purchased a seat at the table With soft money. Consequently, the bill attempted to protect them all, a goal that is obviously incompatible with competition. Consumers, who only give us their votes, had no seat at the table, and the lower prices that competition produces never materialized. Cable rates went up. Phone rates went up. And huge broadcasting giants received for free billions of dollars in digital spectrum, property that belonged to the American people.
In the last several years, while Republicans controlled Congress, special interest earmarks in appropriations bills have dramatically increased. The rise in pork barrel spending is directly related to the rise of soft money, as Republicans and Democrats scramble to reward major donors to our campaigns.
The American people want their-money spent on their priorities, and their priorities aren’t ethanol subsidies and free advertising for giant corporations.
Imagine the promises we could keep and the good we could do if politicians stopped treating the federal treasury as a duty free shop for soft money donors. For instance, if we stopped giving away ethanol and oil and gas subsidies we could use the money saved to support a three-year school voucher test in almost all of the largest school districts in America. Our failure to cut taxes as much as we should or begin the systemic reform of the tax code is not attributable solely to the opposition of the other party. For the sake of soft money we have put tax loopholes for special interests ahead of tax relief for working families, and we have made the tax code a bewildering 44,000 page catalogue of favors for a privileged few and a chamber of horrors for the rest of America.
Republicans should be proud that we have finally forced the Clinton Administration to stop making dangerous cuts in defense spending.
But we should be ashamed when we waste billions of dollars on weapons systems that have no use in the post Cold War era while 12,000 enlisted personnel, proud young men and women, live on food stamps.
We should be ashamed when campaign donations cause us to look the other way while sensitive security technology is transferred to countries that very well may use that technology to threaten Americans interests and values.
That’s the kind of defense that soft money buys us, and this country deserves better service from us than that.
In truth, we are all shortchanged by soft money, liberal and conservative alike.
All of our ideals are sacrificed.
We are all corrupted.
I know that is a harsh judgment. But it is, I am sorry to say, a fair one. And even if our own consciences were to allow us to hide from it, the people we are privileged to serve will not.
Most Americans believe we conspire to hold on to every political advantage we have, lest we jeopardize our incumbency by a single lost vote.
Most Americans believe we would pay any price, bear any burden to ensure to success of our personal ambitions - no matter how injurious the effect might be to the national interest.
And who can blame them when the wealthiest Americans and richest organized interests can make six figure donations to political parties and gain the special access to power such generosity confers on the donor.
I’ve been told that there is no room for this issue in Republican primaries. Well, I intend to make room for it.
I will call for the reform of our political system everywhere I go in this campaign.
I will ask my supporters to make campaign reform their top priority, and I’ll challenge my opponents to declare their independence from the political welfare state.
Because I’m not running for President to be someone. I’m running to do something. This is your country, my friends. And I’m running for President to give it back to you.
In the next few weeks, Senator Russ Feingold and I are going to attempt once again to force the United States Senate to abolish soft money. We’re going to fight as hard as we can. But we need your help.
The defenders of the status quo prevailed last time because they convinced the Senate that Americans don’t care about this issue. I ask every American who cares about our country’s future to let Congress know that you want us to put the national interest before the special interests. I ask every Republican voter to let my colleagues know that you still believe in the cause Ronald Reagan fought for, the cause you elected a Republican Congress to serve, the cause of less government and more freedom.
That cause should not be sacrificed for one more hour to preserve a campaign system that values money above principles and integrity.
Even if it were true that Americans don’t care about campaign finance reform- and I do not for one moment believe that it is - I would not give up this fight.
I would rather not be President than win that high office on false pretenses.
How could I ask Americans to enlist in the fight against national cynicism while I support the underlying cause of the public’s disgust with politics? We will never make any real progress in restoring the public’s faith in our government and politics until those of us privileged to hold office prove that we will act in the people’s best interests even if we must risk our own careers to do so.
My friends, I am for campaign finance reform, and I want anyone who might vote for me to know that if I am elected we will have campaign finance reform.
Anyone who is satisfied with the status quo should vote for someone else.
But anyone who believes that America is greater than the sum of its special interests should stand with me.
I stand my ground for this cause for my country’s sake, and also for the sake of my self-respect.
When I was a young man, and all glory was self-glory, I responded aggressively and often irresponsibly to anyone who questioned my honor. I still remember how zealously a boy attended the needs of his self-respect.
But as I grew older, and the challenges to my self-respect became more varied and difficult, I was surprised to discover that while my sense of honor had matured, its defense mattered even more to me than it did when I believed that honor was such a frail thing that any empty challenge threatened it.
I believe public service is an honorable profession. I believed that when I entered the Naval Academy at seventeen and I believe it still. I have grown old in my country’s service, and I should be content with a life that has been more blessed than I deserve.
But the people whom I serve believe that the means by which I came to office corrupt me. And that shames me. That shames me. Their contempt is a stain upon my honor, and I cannot live with it.
So for your sake, for the sake of your children, for the sake of an America that remains the greatest force for good on earth, and, admittedly, for the reputation of an American who has been privileged to hold a public trust for over forty years, please join me in this fight for freedom and reform.
It’s your country. Let’s go take it back.