February 11, 2007

McCain Backing Away From Campaign Finance Reform?

Conservatives have mistrusted John McCain for five years, ever since he teamed with Russ Feingold to pass the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. The pair intended on ending checkbook politics by restricting the rights of groups to advertise their political arguments while mentioning incumbents in the final 60 days of a campaign, among other restrictions.

Well, time has a way of changing things. The Washington Post reports today that McCain has reversed himself in fact if not in policy by actively pursuing some of the same checkbooks the BCRA supposedly excluded from politics:

Just about a year and a half ago, Sen. John McCain went to court to try to curtail the influence of a group to which A. Jerrold Perenchio gave $9 million, saying it was trying to "evade and violate" new campaign laws with voter ads ahead of the midterm elections.

As McCain launches his own presidential campaign, however, he is counting on Perenchio, the founder of the Univision Spanish-language media empire, to raise millions of dollars as co-chairman of the Arizona Republican's national finance committee.

In his early efforts to secure the support of the Republican establishment he has frequently bucked, McCain has embraced some of the same political-money figures, forces and tactics he pilloried during a 15-year crusade to reduce the influence of big donors, fundraisers and lobbyists in elections. That includes enlisting the support of Washington lobbyists as well as key players in the fundraising machine that helped President Bush defeat McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries. ...

McCain the reformer worked unsuccessfully through Congress and the courts to try to stop nonprofit political groups known as 527s from using unlimited donations to run political ads and fund other activities aimed at influencing voters in the run-up to elections. He reintroduced legislation last week to end 527 donations, but there appears to be little appetite in Congress to pass it.

McCain the candidate now expects Republicans to use the same big-money 527 groups in the 2008 elections to beat Democrats, if the groups remain legal. "The senator believes that both parties should be subjected to an even playing field. If Democratic organizations are allowed to take advantage of 527s, Republican organizations will, too," said Mark Salter, a senior McCain adviser. The senator declined to be interviewed.

On one hand, McCain can argue that he wants a equal playing field in partisan politics, and he will have a point. If 527s remain legal, the Republicans should make as much use out of them as the Democrats. Both parties should work within the law to vigorously pursue their policy goals, and neither should be expected to forego legal funding mechanisms unilaterally. It would not serve their constituencies properly to do so.

However, this seems more than a bit hypocritical on the part of McCain personally. He wants to run for President partly on the basis of his political cleanliness, part of which comes from his attacks on people who contribute through the same mechanisms he now employs for himself. Six out of his eight finance co-chairs have used 527s and soft money to build campaigns since 1998, amounting to over $13 million. These include fundraisers for George Bush in campaigns past, whom he included in his criticisms over fundraising.

In the case of Perenchio, he appears to represent everything that McCain opposed with the BCRA. He has given millions of dollars to groups like Progress for America, which helped George Bush win re-election in 2004. McCain's reformist allies took the FEC to court to stop 527s, citing PFA as one of the offending organizations. McCain and Feingold filed an amicus brief in favor of the plaintiffs complaining about a PFA commercial that featured the daughter of a 9/11 victim, and demanding more regulation to stop PFA and other groups from engaging in political speech.

Now, a couple of years later, McCain welcomes Perenchio's money with open arms. What changed? McCain needs the money to run for President -- and perhaps enact a few more "reforms".

This is the reason that conservatives mistrust McCain. He's not doing anything illegal, but only because McCain failed to convince Congress and the FEC to make it illegal. He has spent the last few years decrying the very actions he takes now as a corrupting influence on the body politic. Apparently, he wants us to trust that he's not corrupted by the checkbooks, but that other politicians have been.

This is ridiculous, and completely unnecessary. If McCain wants to end corruption, then quit creating Byzantine mechanisms to channel and hide money -- and stop limiting political speech. If that solution is good enough for McCain the candidate, then it should be good enough for McCain the Senator.


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» McCain's Changing Campaign Finance Views from ProfessorBainbridge.com ®
John McCain has spent many years undermining the First Amendment with one effort at campaign finance reform after another. But now the WaPo reports that he's engaging in the very same tactics he spent years decrying:Just about a year and [Read More]

» McCain Just Doesn't Get It from The Politicker
I have a special disdain I reserve for McCain that no other politician is subject to. That's why I was curious when I saw a headline over at CQ titled, "McCain Backing Away From Campaign Finance Reform?". The McCain-Feingold bill... [Read More]

» McCain Just Doesn't Get It from The Politicker
I have a special disdain I reserve for McCain that no other politician is subject to. That's why I was curious when I saw a headline over at CQ titled, "McCain Backing Away From Campaign Finance Reform?". The McCain-Feingold bill... [Read More]