Saturday, March 03, 2007

# Posted 11:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCAIN HYPOCRISY ON CAMPAIGN FINANCE? Forgive me for being three weeks behind the times, but I've meaning to write about a front-page article in the WaPo entitled "McCain Taps Cash He Sought to Limit".

However, the article's headline has changed since it was first published on February 11. According to a correction notice appended to the top of the article (which I only discovered this morning):
The headline on a Feb. 11 article about Sen. John McCain's fundraising, "McCain Taps Cash He Sought to Limit," was misleading. As was clear in the story, McCain is seeking contributions for his presidential campaign from donors who once contributed "soft" money or who contributed to nonprofit political groups known as 527s, not from the groups themselves.
The article's new headline is "One Time Reformer Taps Big Donors". That's still a negative headline that raises the issue of hypocrisy, so thankfully I can still ask the question I had way back on Feb. 11, which is to what degree McCain's behaving as a normal candidate will result in accusations that he has fallen from his pedestal.

When you earn yourself a reputation as a reformer and a maverick, it's only natural for journalists to try and take you down once you hit the campaign trail. In fact, that's probably a good thing. No one should get a free pass because of their reputation.

On the other hand, there is the concern that journalists will go too far, since they have such a powerful incentive to expose every maverick as a conformist and every reformer as a sell-out. So the question is, will the compromises McCain has to make as a candidate be enough to turn the press corps against him, or will a few journalists try to score points at the Senator's expense, only to have their colleagues move on to the next big story?

With that question in mind, it's worth turning back to the actual text of the WaPo article published on Feb. 11. Here's how it begins:
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.
That first sentence is especially confusing. It sounds like McCain went to court to target a single group to which Perenchio gave $9 million. Yet if you read the rest of the WaPo article closely, you'll discover that McCain filed an amicus brief asking the courts to clamp down on all "527" groups. In his brief, McCain cited as an example one group to which Perenchio gave several million dollars.

Moreover, the group supported by Perenchio apparently did nothing different from hundreds of other 527s. It simply used its money to run political commercials shortly before election day.

A few paragraphs in, the WaPo article reports that:
The contrast between McCain the presidential candidate and McCain the reformer can be jarring. McCain's campaign says that he is still studying whether to forgo the public financing and spending limits he has long supported, but that he will not be handicapped by restrictions his competitors will not face in 2008.
Let's be clear. McCain has worked hard to change the laws that govern campaign finance. Now he has to decide whether he will simply follow the existing law, or whether he will voluntarily embrace a higher standard that might some day become the law.

I don't think there's a big story here and I would actually be sort of surprised if the press corps as whole sought to punish McCain for refusing to run a campaign with one hand tied behind his back. Naturally, a handful of correspondents will try to run with this alleged story and see if it becomes the next big thing. I don't expect them to change the debate, but stranger things have happened.

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