The Lonely Centrist

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Is John McCain Corrupt?

Redstate and the Skeptic are noting that John McCain's leadership PAC, the "Straight Talk Express," is back in business, and that something smells rotten in Phoenix.

A leadership PAC is a political action committee controlled by an officeholder. It allows him or her to raise and spend money for a whole variety of political activities, other than directly on his own campaign. In other words, for incumbent officeholders, it doubles their contribution limits, vis a vis what challengers can do. And they serve as general travel slush funds for officeholders.

In 2003, after passage of McCain-Feingold, and drawing some rare criticism from the media for his hypocrisy (Leadership PACs, especially McCain's, are, after all, quite hypocritical: if soliciting money above a certain level is "corrupting," then why should the officeholder be able to effectively solicit twice that amount? Only incumbents benefit; McCain's PAC was one of the largest, etc.), McCain shut down the "Straight Talk Express."

However, this week the PAC was reestablished. What is equally interesting is that the phone number listed is also that listed on the web page of the "Reform Institute." Now, what is the "Reform Institute?" It's a group of which McCain is Chairman. Read their press releases, and you'll see he is listed in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence, of every one. And who staffs the Reform Institute? The President is Rick Davis, McCain's 2000 presidential campaign manager. The legal counsel is Trevor Potter, McCain's 2000 presidential campaign legal counsel. The finance director is Carla Eudy, formerly McCain 2000 National Finance Director. Crystal Benton, the Insitute's Communications Director, used to be a McCain press secretary. You get the picture. Some of these people have earned big bucks for this - see here (you'll need to register, which is free, then search for Reform Institute in Alexandria, Virginia, and call up their form 990, an IRS form non-profits must file. You'll learn, for example, that Davis was earning over $100K in 2003, - even though, as his staff entry at the Institute's site notes, he also has another job. 2003 is the last year for which reports are available).

Although the Reform Institute claims it was founded to "represent[] a thoughtful, moderate voice for reform in the campaign finance and election administration debates," in October 2004 it suddenly decided - at the same time that Sen. McCain was pushing his global warming legislation - that it should be involved in global warming issues - a natural partner to "campaign finance and election reform," as anyone can tell you. To manage this new initiative - its only initiative other than campaign finance and elections, and coincidentally McCain's top legislative concern after campaign finance - it tapped John Raidt, a former McCain staffer on the Senate Commerce Committee.

Meanwhile, Davis writes articles touting McCain and talking about how wonderful he is, and how horribly he was smeared by the Bush people back in 2000. Virtually every news story posted on the site is about McCain, or a speech by McCain, and as noted, all of the press releases highlight Senator McCain.

And how is the Reform Institute funded? By large contributions from corporations and others. As the intrepid Ryan Sager of the New York Post noted in a column at Tech Central Station, the cable giant Cablevision alone twice gave $100,000 to the Reform Institute, the first right after its CEO testified before McCain's Commerce Committee, the second shortly before McCain wrote that CEO about an issue pending before his committee, suggesting he should "feel free to contact me [McCain] and discuss these issues further.

Certainly all this shows great hypocrisy on the part of the famously "straight talking" Senator, but the Skeptic and Red State are beginning to ask if there might be anything illegal in this cozy set of relationships. After all, the Federal Election Commission has detailed regulations on "testing the waters" committees by officeholders considering a run for another office, such as President. Has the Reform Institute been playing that role? The FEC also considers "coordinated" activity by a group to count as a campaign contribution - did the Reform Institute coordinate with McCain? And if the Reform Institute was acting as a Leadership PAC - carrying on the functions that Straight Talk temporarily abandoned because it was getting embarrassing to McCain - that would appear to be illegal, too.

Illegal or not, this thing stinks.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life