The New York Times has signaled that Senator John McCain can expect no media blackout of his apparent conflict between his reformer persona and the coordination involving his action on behalf of Cablevision and their $200K donations to the Reform Institute. In an article that manages to almost completely miss the Cablevision connection, McCain still comes across as a hypocrite, raising big money for his pet causes through the supposedly independent 501(c)3 that employs his chief political advisor, Rick Davis:
In a small office a few miles from Capitol Hill, a handful of top advisers to Senator John McCain run a quiet campaign. They promote his crusade against special interest money in politics. They send out news releases promoting his initiatives. And they raise money - hundreds of thousands of dollars, tapping some McCain backers for more than $50,000 each.
This may look like the headquarters of a nascent McCain presidential bid in 2008. But instead, it is the Reform Institute, a nonprofit organization devoted to overhauling campaign finance laws and one whose work has the added benefit of keeping the senator in the spotlight.
The institute has drawn little notice, but it offers a telling glimpse into how Mr. McCain operates. In the four years since its creation, it has accelerated its fund-raising, collecting about $1.3 million last year, double what it raised in 2003, a sizable sum for a group that exists to curb the influence of money in politics. ...
"It's screaming hypocrisy, isn't it?" said Roy Schotland, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and a critic of Mr. McCain's campaign finance legislation. "What he's doing is what he and his side are always screaming about, violating at least the spirit of the campaign finance laws."
As chairman of the Reform Institute's advisory committee, Mr. McCain is often praised in its news releases and featured in its fund-raising letters, a useful boost for any potential presidential candidate.
It's not just the hypocrisy, either. As the Times notes, the Reform Institute helps keep McCain's staff gainfully employed between campaigns, allowing McCain to do less fundraising while retaining the best of the available talent. For instance, Carl Hulse and Ann Kornblut note that Rick Davis managed McCain's presidential campaign in 2000 before founding Reform Institute. Now its president, he gets over $100,000 a year from RI for "consulting services". That money allows Davis to remain available for McCain's future campaigns, and the funding he raises for RI gives him inroads for building support.
However, with Cablevision, Davis and McCain got sloppy. In an eerily reminiscent action which hearkens back to the Keating 5 scandal, McCain essentially attempted to intervene on Cablevision's behalf by writing a letter to the FCC supporting Cablevision's regulatory agenda of a la carte cable services. Less than a fortnight before, Cablevision made a six-figure donation to RI through a subsidiary, CSC Holdings, directly as a result of Davis' solicitation. Nor is that the only conflict that McCain has had with the communications industry through Davis and RI:
One donation in that category came from an elected Republican official who insisted on remaining anonymous, even to Mr. McCain, Mr. Davis said. Some donors, though, are communications industry giants who had business before the Commerce Committee when Mr. McCain was its chairman. Echosphere, a communications company started by Charles Ergen, a founder of EchoStar Communications and the DISH Network, gave $50,000 or more to the institute. So did CSC Holdings, a subsidiary of the Cablevisions Systems Corporation, headed by Charles F. Dolan, and the Chartwell Foundation, the charitable group funded by A. Jerrold Perenchio, the Univision billionaire.
The stink gets worse with each new revelation. Based on my research yesterday, Davis already has many strange bedfellows for a man who is the closest political advisor to a supposedly conservative Republican. Now it appears that McCain has a track record of using RI to allow donors a roundabout way to buy influence: keeping his staff employed and this bootlicking "independent" policy group afloat.
So this is campaign finance reform? This is what we traded our First Amendment rights of unfettered political speech to get?