Washington, DC - The Wall Street Journal today reveals the latest in a string of campaign improprieties from John McCain. According to the report, "allies of Sen. John McCain have found new loopholes in the campaign-finance law he helped write" after months of lagging behind the Obama campaign's grassroots fundraising. According to the Journal, prominent GOP donors have been trying to encourage high dollar donors to circumvent the $2,300 limit on contributions to presidential campaigns established in the 2002 McCain-Feingold law by steering contributions to the Republican Governors Association, calling it the "the best way to help McCain" in swing states and "the equalizer in this campaign." The story cites experts questioning the legality of this arrangement, with one prominent expert suggesting that if it is legal, it is close enough to the line that "they may have chalk on their shoes."
Today's report is the latest in a string of campaign improprieties that reveal the double talk behind McCain's rhetoric about reform. McCain has taken advantage of a loophole in his own campaign finance reform law to avoid paying the full rate for the use of a private jet and even refused to pay for his campaign's use of a corporate jet. McCain has tried to illegally walk away from the Federal Election Commission's matching funds program despite using taxpayer money to secure a loan and qualify for free ballot access in key states. In April, Judicial Watch filed a complaint with the FEC after McCain failed to reimburse for the use of the Spencer House during a campaign fundraiser in London, and just last month McCain ran afoul of the Hatch Act by relying on the U.S. Ambassador in Ottawa to help set up campaign events in Canada.
"After promising a new standard of openness and transparency, John McCain has spent so much time blowing loopholes in campaign finance laws that McCain-Feingold is starting to look like a block of Swiss cheese," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera. "Apparently John McCain's idea of 'straight talk' means steering donors to outside groups, refusing to pay for his campaign's use of a corporate jet, and illegally withdrawing from the Presidential primary matching funds program. Why should the American people trust McCain to put our country first if he continues to demonstrate a pattern of impropriety on the campaign trail and is unwilling to follow the law when it gets in the way of his political aspirations?"
MCCAIN VS. THE LAW
BLOWING LOOPHOLES IN MCCAIN-FEINGOLD...
McCain Allies Steering Big Donors to RGA, Calling It "The Best Way to Help McCain." "Allies of Sen. John McCain have found new loopholes in the campaign-finance law he helped write -- and they're using them to reel in huge contributions to help him compete with Sen. Barack Obama. In one method, a Republican Party fund aimed at electing governors has started marketing itself as a home for contributions of unlimited size to help Sen. McCain. His 2002 campaign law limits donations to presidential races to try to curtail the influence of wealth. The Republican Governors Association isn't subject to those limits, and has long gathered up large donations from individuals and companies. Now it is telling donors it can use their contributions to benefit Sen. McCain in some key battleground states. That makes the group 'the best way to help McCain,' says donor David Hanna, who gave $25,000 -- more than 10 times the legal cap of $2,300 for direct gifts to presidential candidates." [Wall Street Journal, 7/3/08]
RGA Executive Director Calls It "The Equalizer in This Campaign." "The Republican governors group and its Democratic equivalent are a different breed of 527 organization, the only ones formed by the parties themselves. Because they aren't set up to contribute directly to presidential elections, they -- like other 527 groups -- aren't subject to the McCain-Feingold caps on donations. The Democrats say that should prevent them from influencing presidential campaigns. But the Republican group intends to use indirect methods to play a major role: "We are the equalizer in this campaign," says executive director Nick Ayers." [Wall Street Journal, 7/3/08]
If RGA "Wink and a Nod" Fundraising for McCain is Inside Legal Lines, Expert Says "They May Have Chalk on Their Shoes." "Questions about the legality of the governors group's practice arise on both sides of the aisle. In 2005, the FEC banned political organizations from raising uncapped donations by saying the money would 'support or oppose the election of a clearly identified federal candidate.' …A lawyer for the Democrats' group, Jim Lamb, said in an email that his Republican counterparts' pitch may stretch campaign-finance rules. He said donors should be 'very leery' of being solicited to help the governors group aid a federal candidate, 'explicitly or with a wink and a nod.' A well-known campaign-finance lawyer for both Democrats and Republicans, Ken Gross with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, says unless a written pitch clearly contradicts the law, the governors group's tactic is open to interpretation and may fall just inside legal lines, though 'they may have chalk on their shoes.' The FEC declined to comment." [Wall Street Journal, 7/3/08]
FLASHBACK: Earlier This Week McCain Advisor Bragged About Countering Democratic Grassroots Support With Soft Money. "The presumptive Republican nominee is on course to double his Florida cash intake through big-ticket 'soft money' fundraising done through the state and national party. 'There's only so much money in the political universe. Although Obama has found a way to tap into small donors, they haven't been successful in tapping soft money, at least that I've seen,' Ballard said." [Orlando Sentinel, 6/29/08]
CAMPAIGN EVENTS HOSTED BY FOREIGN NATIONALS...
McCain Gave Campaign Speech at "Non-Campaign" Event in Ottawa. "After a visit to the Economic Club of Toronto, however, McCain held two private meetings with Canadian business leaders in which the candidate's ambassadorial tone gave way to one more familiar from the campaign trail. First, McCain participated in what the campaign described as a private roundtable with 15 to 20 Canadian business leaders. He then addressed a meeting of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives at the exclusive Rideau Club in downtown Ottawa. McCain was introduced to the group as the 'presidential nominee for the Republican Party of the United States of America,' and although he stuck mostly to pleasantries in his brief remarks, he didn't hesitate to slip back into campaign mode when it came time for questions. When asked about his plan for the American economy, McCain ran off a litany of issues that needed to be addressed, concluding with his campaign slogan: 'Restoration of trust and confidence in government is the first step, and that means reform, prosperity and peace.' McCain also outlined his campaign's health care proposal when asked about the large number of children in the U.S. who remain uninsured." [National Journal, 6/24/08: http://www.nationaljournal.com/njonline/no_20080624_3113.php]
FEC: Foreign Nationals Cannot Fund Campaign Events. "Such an event, where a presidential candidate is able to discuss his policies with foreign business leaders using political language, could be seen by some as a campaign event, and Federal Election Commission law prohibits the involvement of foreign groups in U.S. campaigns. Although a spokesperson for the FEC was not allowed to comment on an issue that may come before the commission, FEC rules say, 'A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make any expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.'" [National Journal, 6/24/08: http://www.nationaljournal.com/njonline/no_20080624_3113.php]
SKIRTING THE HATCH ACT...
McCain Campaign Asked Ambassador to Skirt Hatch Act. "A Canadian newspaper reported Thursday that Friday's scheduled $100-a-plate luncheon speech by Sen. John McCain in Ottawa was organized in part by U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins, a former South Carolina lawmaker whom President Bush appointed in 2005…The article in the Edmonton Sun, and an earlier one in the Globe and Mail, says that Wilkins contacted Thomas d'Aquino, the president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, to help set up what they described as a fundraiser before McCain's visit. McCain is scheduled to give a speech at the the Chateau Laurier Hotel and to meet with several Canadian officials… The Hatch Act circumscribes political activity for government employees. According to the American Foreign Service Association Web site, the State Department's ethics office prohibits fundraising activities for its presidential appointees." [The Trail blog, Washington Post, 6/19/08: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/06/19/democrats_question_ambassadors.html#more]
McCain Campaign Approached Canadians Seeking Visit & CEO Reception Hosts. Two weeks ago, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins telephoned big-business lobbyist Tom d'Aquino, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. Wilkins had been contacted by the McCain campaign about a Canadian visit, and the ambassador wanted to know if some of d'Aquino's group of corporate chief executives might be interested in meeting the Republican presidential candidate. Almost instantly, d'Aquino jumped at the opportunity, and an additional $100-a-plate luncheon organized by the Economic Club of Canada sold out in 30 minutes with tickets now reselling at up to $1,000 a pop. [Edmonton Sun, 6/19/08: http://www.edmontonsun.com/Comment/2008/06/19/5921326-sun.html]
MISUSE OF CORPORATE JETS...
Wall Street Journal: McCain Campaign Fails to Reimburse For Up To Four Campaign Flights. "[Cindy McCain] used the jet on several trips last year that included campaign-related activity but never got campaign reimbursement, according to flight-tracking records and campaign-finance reports verified by the McCain campaign. At the New Yorkfund-raiser, she spoke on stage, warming up the audience for her husband. If the campaign had paid for Mrs. McCain's trip to New Yorkand three others that appear to have included some campaign work, it would likely have cost a total of about $15,000, the equivalent of first-class fare for the trips combined." [Wall Street Journal, 6/18/08: http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB121374837867082729-lMyQjAxMDI4MTEzNzcxNDc4Wj.html]
Republican Expert: McCain Should Have Paid for the Flights. "Jan Baran, a Republican campaign lawyer, said the campaign should have paid. 'I don't know why they want to fight it,' he said. 'The chutzpah is not that they're not paying for this trip, it's that they're using a corporate airplane at a highly discounted rate.'" [Wall Street Journal, 6/18/08: http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB121374837867082729-lMyQjAxMDI4MTEzNzcxNDc4Wj.html]
New York Times: McCain Used Unresolved Loophole in His Own Reform Law to Get Discounted Flights. "Mr. McCain's campaign paid a total of $241,149 for the use of that plane from last August through February, records show. That amount is approximately the cost of chartering a similar jet for a month or two, according to industry estimates. The senator was able to fly so inexpensively because the law specifically exempts aircraft owned by a candidate or his family or by a privately held company they control. The Federal Election Commission adopted rules in December to close the loophole -- rules that would have required substantial payments by candidates using family-owned planes -- but the agency soon lost the requisite number of commissioners needed to complete the rule making. Because that exemption remains, Mr. McCain's campaign was able to use his wife's corporate plane like a charter jet while paying first-class rates, several campaign finance experts said. Several of those experts, however, added that his campaign's actions, while keeping with the letter of law, did not reflect its spirit." [New YorkTimes, 4/27/08: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/27/us/politics/27plane.html?_r=1&oref=slogin]
SKIRTING THE FEC...
FEC Did Not Grant McCain Permission To Withdraw From Public Financing System in the Primary. According to the Washington Post, "The nation's top federal election official told Sen. John McCain yesterday that he cannot immediately withdraw from the presidential public financing system as he had requested, a decision that threatens to dramatically restrict his spending until the general election campaign begins in the fall… Mason notified McCain that the commission had not granted his Feb. 6 request to withdraw from the presidential public financing system." [Washington Post, 2/22/08]
FEC Raised Questions About A Loan the McCain Received. According to the Associated Press, "The government's top campaign finance regulator says John McCain can't drop out of the primary election's public financing system until he answers questions about a loan he obtained to kickstart his once faltering presidential campaign… Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason, in a letter to McCain this week, said the all-but-certain Republican nominee needs to assure the commission that he did not use the promise of public money to help secure a $4 million line of credit he obtained in November." [AP/MSNBC, 2/21/08]
THE SPENCER HOUSE FUNDRAISER...
Judicial Watch Files Complaint Over London Fundraiser. "Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it filed a formal complaint, dated April 22, 2008, with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) related to a fundraising luncheon held at London's Spencer House to benefit Senator John McCain's presidential campaign. The venue for the event was apparently donated to the campaign by foreign nationals, in violation of federal campaign finance laws." [Judicial Watch release, 4/24/08: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUS256624+24-Apr-2008+MW20080424]