John McCain

John McCain's Meltdown


Yesterday on Face the Nation–that venerable American institution that somehow manages to pull fewer eyeballs than reruns of Ronco informercials–Sen. John "McNasty" McCain (R-Ariz.) flipped out on the Federal Election Commission. As the Washington Times reports:

The Federal Election Commission leadership is "corrupt" and should resign for refusing to regulate political groups that are spending millions of dollars to attack both presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain said yesterday.

The Arizona Republican and co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law called the FEC "disgraceful and despicable in its conduct" for allowing independent groups to exploit the Section 527 tax designation and raise millions of donations in soft money….

Mr. McCain said commission Vice Chairman Ellen Weintraub is an "apparatchik" of the Democratic Party and that Chairman Bradley Smith, a Republican appointee, does not believe in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, so both "should resign because they refuse to enforce the law."

Whole thing here. McCain's knickers are in a twist because his vaunted attempt at "campaign finance reform"–a.k.a. abridging the First Amendment–has failed miserably. Like all previous attempts to "keep the money out of politics," "level the playing field," blah blah blah, McCain-Feingold was a bust before it even got underway. McCain's just trying to shoot the messenger on this one. More pathetically still, he's even playing the shame card:

"I say shame on you, Mr. Soros, and shame on all of the people who are funding these, both from the Republican side as well as the Democrat side," Mr. McCain said. "We're not trying to shut you up. We're saying live by the same rules. In other words, the hard money that funds my campaign," Mr. McCain said.

Hey, shame on you, Sen. McCain! Since when did more political speech become a bad thing? When it's no longer under the direct control of Democrats and Republicans? While I disagree with George Soros on just about everything outside of some aspects of drug policy, his billions have helped energize the political debate. And so have the relatively paltry dollars spent by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. We know politics is show biz for ugly people. Now we're learning that it's show biz for apoplectic control freaks.

Reason interviewed FEC chair Bradley Smith here and here.

NEXT: Making Waves

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  1. McCain (channeling Shatner):

    ” Can’t?grab?jello! Must?squeeze?harder!”

  2. While the arguments about Kerry’s service in Vietnam certainly have been energetic, I find it hard to believe anyone considers them to be a positive development.

  3. in the election of a figurehead, anything leading to good time laffs and political hand wringing is a positive development. in light of how absolutely FUCKING SHAMEFUL mccain-feingold is.

  4. Going after Soros is on the agenda this week.
    Some slime:

  5. All that sputtering and apoplectic invective by John (how dare you speak freely!) McCain is the best reason so far for removing the silly ass restrictions on free speech that are masquerading as reform.

    Even if unfettered campaign speech has it’s problems, every attempt at reform has made the problem worse, not better.

  6. thanks for reminding me that denny hastert is a cunting fuckface, btw.

  7. joe,

    Positive or not, the messiness of free expression is always better than any of the alternatives.

  8. Where you go wrong sir is thinking that a politician can or will feel shame at anything they have not been caught doing. If they write a law, sign an executive order, or issue a verdict, it has become the moral high ground in their eyes. Reminding McCain of the Constitution is like reminding an atheist of the book of Matthew. It doesn’t mean anything to them.

  9. It is impossible to restrict money in election campaigns. But it is possible to publicize who is spending the money and for whom it is spent. A simple legal campaign finance bill would require that every contributer would have to supply to the FEC the amount of the contribution and who it is for. The candidates would have to supply the amount of money received and from whom. This would be put on the internet and we would have real time knowledge of where the money is coming from and to whom it is supporting. We would then know who is buying and who is being sold. Then the people would know what is going on.

  10. joe

    Fifty percent of voters believe the Bush campaign is behind the SwiftVet ads. The ads will probably end up doing Bush more harm than good.

    Those who need no converting already knew what they believed. Swing voters are probably turned off. Whether that will get votes for Kerry remains to be seen. More likely they’ll stay home.

    These opinions need to be aired. People can be trusted to draw their own conclusions.

    What foobie said (both posts).

  11. Followed the Talking Points Memo link to read the shit Denny Hastert is spewing about George Soros, and right above that story there was an amusing one about a little slip-up W made:

  12. Tired of the years of nasty, irrational politicking before presidential elections? Seems to start earlier each year, like Christmas sales at the mall. Instead, I suggest a reality TV show in which a bachelorette Amish contestant picks the name of the next president from a flaming car in a house being built within one week. Maybe we’d get a lousy president, but the years of peace and quiet would be worth it.

  13. Talk about the law on unintended consequences.
    They say that you can’t make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious. Well that about sums up the implementation of McCain-Fiengold.
    While McCain blames the FEC, remember that a few short years ago this thing had almost risen to having the FEC run the financing of all federal elections President, House and Senate. So this could have been even worse.
    There is plenty of blame to go around on this thing. Bush gave McCain a freehand to pass this through saying he would sign whatever Congress sent him. I suspect that many on both sides of the aisle felt they could vote for this Rub Goldberg (with apologies to Rub Goldberg) figuring that the Supreme Court would strike it down (i.e. free vote to look progressive). The Democrats should have known already that the Supreme Court is often out to lunch (i.e. Bush selected not elected), but no. The Supremes said .. OK, your mess.

  14. Then the people would know what is going on.

    I agree that total transparency should be the only “campaign finance reform” that we have. Given the pervasive internet and the umpteen billion news networks on my Comcast lineup, there is no reason to think a swing voter isn’t going to see the numbers. Neither party wants this, however. The “bipartisan” CFR was intended to give incumbents a leg up, so as to slow the rate of change in American politics. We are too fussy to fit the desires of the Jackass and the Elephant.

  15. Kindly recall the legistlative history of McCain-Feingold. This measure had been aimed specificaly at the NRA, and was reaction to that organization’s history-making effectiveness, as recognized repeatedly by former president Clinton.

    Sen. McCain is just plain wrong about “loopholes.” Laws in derogation of First Amendment rights must be strictly and narrowly construed. That’s why the whole this is B.S. All you have to do is to move ~~~~ so slightly out of the conduct specifically prohibited by the law, and you’re back in protectesd free-speech territory

  16. Emphasis in final paragraph added.

    Billionaire’s Gun Control Role Is Debated
    Middle-of-the-Road Advocacy and Infusion of Cash Stir Controversy on All Sides

    By Juliet Eilperin
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, April 29, 2001; Page A10

    Last summer, Andrew McKelvey decided he knew how to break the impasse that has dogged the gun control debate: Acknowledge Americans’ right to own guns, but say that these rights come with responsibilities.

    If he had been an ordinary gadfly, McKelvey might have gone unnoticed. But as the owner of, the job search Web site, the billionaire New York businessman used his wealth to position himself at the center of the gun control movement — and to emerge as its dominant force.

    The ascension of his advocacy group, Americans for Gun Safety, has altered the national debate over guns. At a moment when the steam has seemingly gone out of congressional efforts to enact tougher gun control laws, McKelvey’s supporters hail him as a potential savior who can attract a broader constituency to their cause.

    Many longtime advocates of tougher gun control laws, however, charge that his endorsement of gun ownership is dooming the gun control movement by watering down its message.

    No one questions McKelvey’s influence. His group’s $3 million advertising campaign in Colorado and Oregon helped propel to victory in November ballot initiatives seeking background checks at gun shows. His staff is now helping craft a new gun show proposal on the federal level that Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) plan to unveil within a matter of weeks.

    A political novice, McKelvey, 66, used his personal fortune to assemble a formidable political network that gave him access to policymakers and made his organization a critical contributor to state gun control groups. He hired top officials from the Clinton administration and Republican congressional aides, picking Jonathan Cowan, who was Andrew M. Cuomo’s chief of staff at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as his group’s president. He commissioned polls from Democrats Mark Mellman and Mark Penn as well as from Republican John Zogby, and also hired GOP image-maker Greg Stevens to film issue advertisements on the group’s behalf.

    McKelvey, who marvels at his sudden access to national leaders — “I’m about as apolitical as it comes. I don’t know anybody” — says his group is simply being pragmatic. “I try to work on things in which we can have some results,” he says.

    A plainspoken man, he dismisses the notion some hold that a searing personal experience drew him into the debate over gun violence. “They want to know, ‘Did you have a brother shot?’ The answer is ‘no,’ ” he says. “All these kids just kept getting shot in schools.”

    His group’s drive to pass measures requiring gun show background checks in Colorado and Oregon bore all the hallmarks of a traditional campaign. In Oregon, the group paid for a half-million phone calls and a quarter-million pieces of direct mail to voters, in addition to running television advertisements featuring McCain’s support for the initiative.

    McKelvey compared the McCain ads his group ran in Colorado and Oregon to the catchy television commercials his Web site pioneered. “Advertising, particularly television advertising, is certainly an effective vehicle,” he says.

    Now, the group has expanded nationwide, running ads in favor of closing the gun show “loophole” — which allows people in 32 states to buy weapons at gun shows without undergoing background checks — and providing tens of thousands of dollars in funding for state groups.

    Despite the shot in the arm Americans for Gun Safety has given to the gun show issue, many advocates of stricter gun laws are critical of McKelvey’s efforts.

    Violence Policy Center public policy director Joe Sudbay notes that the group’s focus on gun shows addresses just a small part of a much larger problem. He says McKelvey is using his money to try to get cash-strapped state gun control advocacy groups to support his middle-of-the-road approach — at the risk of undermining the broader gun control effort.

    McKelvey offered $60,000 to any state group willing to become a “chapter” of his organization. Although many of these affiliates balked once they discovered that the organization’s mission statement endorses gun ownership, McKelvey allowed them to keep the one-year grants.

    “I think he was trying to do a hostile takeover of the gun control movement,” Sudbay says.

    Sudbay is equally critical of McCain and Lieberman’s gun show proposal, which would allow private gun show dealers to move to a 24-hour background check in three years if the attorney general certifies they are able to access files on 95 percent of buyers.

    Lieberman, who says he and McCain became convinced that the gun issue had become too polarized after they both campaigned for national office last year, defends McKelvey’s efforts, saying he may have identified the kind of balanced approach that has eluded lawmakers so far. “There’s a logic to this,” Lieberman says.

    At the moment, however, gun rights advocates aren’t rushing to embrace McKelvey’s approach. His overtures to some of Capitol Hill’s most staunch conservatives have been rebuffed. The May issue of the National Rifle Association’s magazine features a caricature of McKelvey with the caption, “The New Gun Haters Have Arrived . . . With the Same Old Scheme.”

    While Americans for Gun Safety has yet to engage in direct electioneering, its critics and allies predict that it may become even more powerful if the changes to campaign finance laws passed by the Senate are enacted. The proposal, sponsored by McCain and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), would end the raising of unlimited “soft money” donations to political parties from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. It could give new power to independently funded groups such as McKelvey’s, which would not be subject to the new restrictions.

    Cowan says the group is still evaluating its political strategy for the next election. Without question, he adds, “McCain-Feingold actually helps groups like us. . . . The right of a democracy is people can organize themselves to effectively advocate for a point of view.”

    For McCain, McKelvey’s willingness to devote millions of dollars to influence lawmakers on issues such as gun control is something to be lauded rather than criticized. “I’m glad a guy with a billion dollars, or two billion dollars, wants to spend his money on an issue he feels strongly about,” McCain says.

  17. The only court-approved justification for campaign finance reform was to curb the appearance of corruption involved in candidates having to raise money for campaigns. Although Crabby McTesty’s clear intent was to limit negative advertisements against candidates, the courts have never accepted that as a valid justification for limiting First Amendment rights.

    The “corruption” argument for limiting 527 groups goes nowhere, unless there is a strong case of coordination — in fundraising. Do the SwiftVets, or, have a monetary interest in pending legislation that could be a “quo” for the “quid” of running negative ads against Kerry or Bush, the answer is no. There simply is no way that the speech of these organizations can be legally restricted, even accepting the Supreme Court’s hideous ruling upholding certain elements of McCain-Feingold.

  18. joe,

    Here is a positive statement about Vietnam that only mentions Bush:

    George Bush never called me “baby killer”.

    Is everybody happy?

  19. I recall earlier comments by Chairman of the FEC which now seem appropriate. Bradley Smith said that it was the FEC’s job to interpret the law as written, not as people would like it to have been written.

    I still cannot understand how the Supreme Court let stand the 60 day moratorium of commenting on a politician seekeng elected office.

  20. Some idiots here apparently need reminding that freedom of speech and character assassination are not the same thing. Course, leftist goons think it is when they’re the ones doing the slurring.

    Doesn’t matter. You dickheads will be weeping and claiming “Bush stole the election” come November.

  21. i have no interest in anything andrew sullivan has to say these days.he’s got his bowels in an uproar over the prez’s support for the fma and is no longer rational.

  22. or the other dickheads will be claiming al qaeda stole the election.

    and when it comes to politicians, free speech and character assassination ARE the same thing.

    whatever, you’re all tiresome fucks when it comes down to it…oh oh, this millionaire will be ever so much better than that one!

  23. That Hastert thing is hilarious. The only evidence he produced to back up his suggestion that George Soros might be a front for a drug cartel is that Soros is apparently in favor of legalizing drugs. This is the Speaker of the House.

  24. While the arguments about Kerry’s service in Vietnam certainly have been energetic, I find it hard to believe anyone considers them to be a positive development.

    Oh, I dunno. They are providing fascinating insights into all sorts of people, not least of which are Kerry (revealed as cynical and opportunistic fabulist), Bush (revealed as a calculating politico), and McCain (but we already knew he was an authoritarian asshole).

  25. The nation is ready, and better served, if we examine current issues, rather than my opponent’s record of murdering Vietnamese babies, in the name of freedom.

  26. I have long thought that John McCain has no sense of irony. He complains about the 527s, when it’s because of his stupid campaign finance law that 527s have become “de rigeur.” And irony of ironies, it was McCain who got caught with 4 Democrats making hay with Charles Keating in the savings and loan scandal back in the late 80s. Remember the Keating 5? That was McCain, John Glenn and 3 other Dems. He is a holier than thou hothead, spoiled by the fawning media attention, which he only receives as long as he bashes Bush and Republicans.

  27. Jim,

    Character assasination and political speech ARE the same thing. Fer instance:

    There is a big difference between William Calley and John Kerry. William Calley is a proven war criminal. For John Kerry we only have his word as an officer and a gentleman.

  28. “While the arguments about Kerry’s service in Vietnam certainly have been energetic, I find it hard to believe anyone considers them to be a positive development.”

    Well, sure they are. Kerry made the mistake of making ‘nam his cornerstone, and now he’s paying for it. The positive here is two negative turns adding up to a positive.

  29. schwartzshportz,

    McCain is indeed a media darling, playing the part of the “good” Republican. In other words, the media likes him because he’s a Democrat who is still officially registered Republican.

  30. Anyone remember Andrew Jackson’s lament that in killing the Bank of the United States he had created instead a pack of little banks?

    McCain sounds a lot like Andrew Jackson. In killing campaign spending and PAC spending, he and Russ Feingold have created 527’s.

    What madness will the next specie circular hold? How will political loud-mouths left, right, moonbat, or center route around the next attempt at censorship of political speech?

    Very noisily. This is America.

  31. Free speech, prompt and full disclosure of all campaign contributions, and enforceable libel and slander laws are all the “reform” we need.

  32. Screw full disclosure, it is none of your goddamned business what causes I support. The courts already affirrmed this freedom, and uninformed “reformers” should butt out of my affairs.

  33. I think John McCain suffers from the “triple ego curse.”
    1) He was a Naval Aviator, Raybans and cool, the only thing larger than his watch was his ego.
    2) War hero, “I’m a War Hero and don’t you forget it!”
    3) He’s a US Senator, “Hey don’t you know who I am?”

    You put all three together and you have an ego so huge that it threatens to burst McCain’s skull at all times, and the pain of the skin tension makes him cranky and prone to nasty outbursts.

  34. No one is saying George Soros should not be allowed to speak his mind, and arguments otherwise are nothing but strawmen. One does not have to spend billions to exercise one’s right to free speech, I am currently doing so without spending a dime. The issue is what he can do to promote his view, not whether or not he can express it in the first place. Don’t tie together the right to have and express an opinion with a right to have an audience, as the latter is, as far as I know, never mentioned anywhere in the Constitution.

  35. But the “right to seek an audience” is still separate from the right to free speech. Thus limits on the right to seek an audience are not limits on free speech. My First Amendment rights in no way violated if I am prohibited from entering your house in the middle of the night and waking you up to discuss education reform, or if I am prohibited from hacking into the Reason server and secretly inserting a paper I wrote on the front page. And claiming McCain wants to limit Soros’ ability to seek an audience to blogs and street corners is another strawman. No one is saying that.

    Look, if the 1st Amendment gives Soros a right (as opposed to a potential opportunity) to appear on television during a Law & Order commercial break, surely that right is not a consequence of his money. Thus I, with my lets say more limited financial means, must have the same right. So if NBC refuses to run my ad because I can’t pay for it, do I have a basis to complain that my freedom of speech is being abused?

  36. How does “seeking an audience” lead to breaking and entering or computer hacking? We’re talking about his decision to dispose of his financial resources in a _voluntary_ transaction with media organizations. Talk about a strawman.

    And the fact that some people don’t have as much money doesn’t mean he’s limited to what the poorest person could afford. I can’t afford to buy 30 seconds during the Law and Order, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean others don’t have the right to enter into a voluntary contract with NBC to air an ad, whether they’re MoveOn, Budweiser, or anyone else.

    I think there are possibly some potentially well-reasoned and somewhat convincing arguments for campaign finance reform. These are not them.

  37. J, you can argue that one should have the right to enter in a voluntary business contract, but thats no longer a free speech issue. And yes, many people are arguing this as a free speech issue, so no that was not a strawman.

  38. No one is saying George Soros has a right to have an audience. He does, however, have the right to seek an audience, however much it costs, just as they have the right to ignore him. If the freedom of speech were limited to posting in blogs and standing on street corners, it’d pretty worthless nowadays.

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