Straight Talk Is Cheap

How John McCain became the capo of the new, reformed campaign finance syndicate

What happens when Mr. Smith becomes Washington? Look no further than Arizona's Senator John McCain, who is busily plotting another run at the Oval Office. This time, he is letting his political action committee (PAC) do the dirty work.

Back in 2001, you'll recall, maverick John McCain, a man so honest he once chopped down a cherry tree just so Charles Keating could throw him $200,000 in wooden nickels from across the Potomac, introduced the controversial McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform leg islation and urged his fellow-politicians to clean up.

On the Senate floor, McCain claimed that his law would

...help change the public's widespread belief that politicians have no greater purpose than their own reelection and to that end we will respond disproportionately to the needs of those interests that can best finance our ambition, even if those interests conflict with the public interest and with the governing philosophy we once sought office to advance.

McCain's law passed, and survived a Supreme Court challenge. With government corruption finally out of the political process, McCain did the only reasonable thing: work toward his own reelection by responding disproportionately to those interests that could best finance his ambition.

Straight Talk America PAC, which pays for McCain's travel for speeches and allows the senator to distribute campaign funds to other candidates and state Republican parties, is a clear sign that, for all his reformer rhetoric, McCain is a part of the establishment he so frequently criticizes. McCain has already used his PAC to funnel money to ultra-conservative special interest groups and candidates.

McCain is kowtowing to groups that just a few years ago he labeled "agents of intolerance." But not only is McCain—that independently-minded champion of the "little guy"—backtracking (see his retraction of the phrase "agents of intolerance" in a recent interview with Meet the Press host Tim Russert, along with the infamous convocation speech at Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University), he is showering social conservatives with cash.

Consider his PAC's spending choices. During the FEC recording period for the month of May alone, Straight Talk America reports giving away $803,517.45 to cover McCain's speeches and to help fund Republican candidates and special interest groups across the country.

What kind of candidates benefit from McCain's largesse? Meet South Carolina's own Sen. Jim DeMint. DeMint argues that homosexuals and single mothers who cohabit outside of marriage are unfit to teach in public schools, campaigned to ban the abortion pill, and supports jail time for search engine operators who offer pay-to-play deals. McCain endorsed the Senator and cut him a $5,000 check—the maximum amount allowed by federal elections law.

And then there's Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, whose solution to the pledge of allegiance controversy is to "start by agreeing that we want the words 'under God' to remain in the pledge of allegiance." After that, says Inglis, who never shies from taking a controversial position, we all must "agree that it's important to do the right things in the right way."

McCain's PAC gave many of its largest donations to candidates in important primary states like South Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa and Virginia. Nearly every formidable Republican in South Carolina has gotten a check, and McCain gave $3,500 to both the South Carolina Senate and House GOP Caucuses. Focusing on the South makes sense for McCain: It was his poor showing in the southern primaries (particularly in South Carolina, where then-foe George W. Bush insinuated that McCain had an illegitimate African-American child) that eventually did him in during his first go at the presidency.

Yet McCain shares the love with right-wing special interest groups, whose support would score a major victory for McCain GOP primary aspirations. That's why McCain gave gifts valued at $ 4432.13 and $ 2155.44 to the Pro-Life Campaign Committee and the Republican Issues Committee, respectively.

"As long as the wealthiest Americans and richest organized interests can make the six- and seven-figure donations to political parties and gain the special access to power that such generosity confers on the donor, most Americans will dismiss the most virtuous politician's claim of patriotism," McCain declared to CNN in 2002.

Now, McCain holds the reins of a powerful and wealthy organization, which supports conservative candidates, conservative special interest groups and the actual Republican Party itself.

McCain isn't breaking any campaign finance laws. He wrote them so he wouldn't have to. But he's guilty of campaigning in exactly the manner he asserts is harming our nation. Senator McCain isn't reforming Washington. He is Washington.

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