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McCain Talks Campaign Reform

After years of inaction, the Senate voted to tighten campaign finance disclosure laws last week. But less than a day later, the House defeated a mirror measure, which would have forced so-called "527" entities to disclose their finances.

The Senate legislation was co-sponsored by John McCain - who rode the issue to important primary wins earlier this year. McCain spoke with CBS News Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel on Monday.

"If you're going to have reform in America, it's got to be bi-partisan. It's got to be fair to both sides," McCain said.

On full disclosure, or "527" exemptions, McCain said that action was necessary as soon as possible. While full campaign finance reform (i.e. banning soft money outright) may have to wait until after the 2000 election, McCain said a full disclosure law might not, despite such a measure's failure on Friday by a 216-202 House vote (in which only six Republicans joined Democrats in trying to aid McCain's cause.)

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Republican leaders say they would be prepared to come up with a new bill on full disclosure - to be voted on before July 4 - one which adds language allowing union members to withhold dues earmarked for political ads. This language rankles many House Democrats who supported the bill passed in the Senate last week.

"On full disclosure, to borrow a phrase from my 15-year-old daughter, it's a no-brainer," McCain said.

"It's getting so bad, so outrageous," he said. "In the stages of corruption, you go step-by-step. And it's getting worse and worse. I believe the American people are getting sick and tired of it."

Even if a full disclosure law is passed, it would only be the first step. Ultimately, the Arizona Senator would like to see soft money banned - or at least restricted - in the political process.

"We've got a long way to go," McCain said, pointing to the swelling tide of soft money in campaign politics, and its potential to generate negative campaigning and voter apathy.

Recently, both the Bush and Gore campaigns began using soft money funds to blanket California with so-called "issue ads."

"The first wave of these commercials was favorable … the next round will be negative attack ads," McCain said. "One thing we know about negative campaigning is it depresses voter turnout. More and more young Americans are refusing to participate, and that's the bad news."

McCain should know: His primary campaign was dealt a blow in New York earlier this year when a Texas group calling itself "Republicans for Clean Air" tied imager of belching smokestacks to McCain while painting his rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, over a green meadow rife with singing birds.

McCain also said Monday his role at the GOP convention in Philadelphia has not been determined, but he did say "I believe I'll be speaking at the convention."