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March 9, 2005
Inside McCain's Reform Institute

When CQ first covered the Bradley Smith interview that started the blogswarm on the FEC and the BCRA this week, I noted several unusual relationships between the donors and the institute, all hinging on Richard Davis, RI's president and John McCain's campaign manager. Since Davis also acts as McCain's chief political advisor, I found it odd that the RI -- which pays Davis a $110,000 "consulting fee" annually instead of a salary as its president -- received money from donors such as the sources that follow below.

Bear in mind, please, that foundations don't just line up to hand out cash. Rick Davis has to apply and then campaign for these funds, as budgets are limited even for the richest foundations. They carefully select their grantees to ensure that they support the overall mission of the foundation. Why would a close political advisor to John McCain go to these sources almost exclusively for the major funding of the non-profit that seeks to support McCain, a supposedly conservative Republican?

* The Tides Foundation, which heavily promotes "reproductive justice", giving over $500,000 to pro-abortion efforts. They also actively oppose the death penalty (so do I, FYI). John McCain opposes abortion and supports the death penalty, so why is his chief political advisor getting so much support from those who ostensibly oppose him?

* Educational Foundation Of America, which also supports abortion. EFA also opposes drilling in ANWR, an issue on which McCain has an ambivalent record. It also supports euthanasia and assisted suicide through the Death With Dignity National Center, a group which it gave $45,000. It gave $100,000 to the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, which opposed the Yucca Mountain nuclear depository (McCain supported it), and opposes development of low-yield nuclear "bunker buster" bombs, which McCain supports.

In fact, EFA appears to contribute to just about every left-wing cause imaginable, as well as a number of noncontriversial charities and outreach efforts.

* The Proteus Fund, which also opposed the Yucca Mountain repository, spending $75K to stop it. That pales in comparison to the $935K they spent on supporting gay marriage initiatives, which McCain strongly opposes. They have also spent over $800,000 funding nuclear-disarmament and antiwar causes in each of the last two years. Their Security Policy Working Group contains nothing but left-of-center groups like Project on Defense Alternatives, which calls the Iraqi elections "faulty" and predicted disaster for the Bush administration's "program of coercive transformation throughout the region."

* OSI (Open Society Institute), founded and funded by George Soros. Among a litany of left-wing causes supported by OSI are People For The American Way, to support their Supreme Court Project. (Hint: It isn't intended on assisting Bush get his nominees confirmed.) They also gave $150,000 to the Campaign Legal Center, which will be important shortly.

* David Geffen Foundation also shows up on the list, although not in the top tier. David Geffen is an entertainment-industry mogul who supports Democrats and left-wing causes. They do not have a website I could find, but notes that in 2002, most of the grants Geffen gave went to environmental activists and the Tides Foundation and Tides Center.

But the oddities don't end at the donors page for Reform Institute. We've already detailed how McCain's chief political advisor earns a six-figure income from the nonprofit which heavily promotes McCain and the BCRA. As the New York Times noted yesterday, RI provides a back-channel method of keeping his campaign staff employed without McCain having to do any fundraising for his political campaigns -- and avoiding the donation caps that come into play for his donors. And Davis isn't the only beneficiary of this loophole.

Trevor Potter works as General Counsel to the Reform Institute. Coincidentally or not, Potter also worked as general counsel to McCain during his 2000 run for the presidency. Potter also is employed as President and General Counsel to the Campaign Legal Center, making him a direct beneficiary of the George Soros donation to this non-profit group as well as at RI. Potter also released a "don't worry, be happy" statement about the FEC's decision not to appeal the Shays-Meehan lawsuit judgment overturning the Internet exemption to the BCRA which failed to disclose Potter's connections to RI, Soros, or McCain.

John McCain, who has long campaigned on a promise to rid politics of big money, not only has built himself a lucrative third-party solution for fundraising but also a shelter to keep two of his top campaign operatives employed between elections. These top strategists also have an odd taste for funding sources, considering McCain's public positions on key issues for his base. That money pays their salaries and indicates a certain amount of influence among McCain's political staff. It demonstrates better than anything else could the corrosive nature of hidden money and back-channel dealings, which the BCRA not only doesn't resolve but almost requires for campaign fundraising.

This shows the futility of the BCRA just as much as it does the hypocrisy of John McCain in creating it and expanding it. The only solution for corruption is direct contributions that get immediate and full disclosure, not limitations on political speech. I can't think of a better example than the Byzantine mess I've described above to make that point.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 9, 2005 5:41 PM

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» Senator McCain's Tangled Web from Balance Sheet
Captain's Quarters writes of the odd, given his stated positions, financial supporters of organizations headed by Senator McCain's political director and campaign manager, Richard Davis, and campaign general counsel Trevor Potter. A quick read of Capta... [Read More]

Tracked on March 9, 2005 7:14 PM

» Minor Fill for CQ from Brainster's Blog
The Tides Foundation is tied in with Teresa Heinz Kerry. We blogged about this at Kerry Haters last year: [Read More]

Tracked on March 10, 2005 12:28 AM

» Campaign Finance Reform a Fraud from Start from Everything I Know Is Wrong
Ryan Sager, in the New York Post, recounts a story told by Sean Treglia, formerly of the PEW Charitable Trusts. [Read More]

Tracked on March 18, 2005 10:23 AM

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