John McCain must be causing Mitt Romney some serious heartburn in New Hampshire. How else to explain Romney’s magnificently absurd claim that the recently-reported push polls attacking Romney’s Mormonism are somehow the fault of…that’s right, John McCain — more specifically, the campaign finance reform law known as McCain-Feingold, which passed in 2002. Politico’s Jonathan Martin has the story here. Of course, push polling existed long before McCain-Feingold became law, as Mark Salter, McCain’s senior aide, alter ego and co-author points out in this lacerating riposte:
Back when Governor Romney was calling for public financing and taxing political donations, and before McCain-Feingold was passed, push polling was, regrettably, alive and well in American politics. Anyone who spent a day in South Carolina in 2000 can testify to that. It is not a surprise that Governor Romney would use even an attack on him to make yet another hypocritical statement. It is the hallmark of his campaign.
There are plenty of good-faith criticisms you could make about the McCain-Feingold law — that it goes too far, or not far enough, or that, short of public financing (and probably even then), money can’t be removed from politics so why bother. You can reasonably argue, as George Will (here and here) and Mitch McConnell and other outright opponents of campaign spending restrictions do, that the amount of money involved in politics is relatively small and not a serious problem and that McCain-Feingold is an unjustified abridgement of the First Amendment. But for Romney to suggest that McCain-Feingold is to blame for the ugly anti-Mormon calls being made against him is more than a stretch.
UPDATE: As Karen points out, one of the reasons Romney is pointing a finger at McCain is that there is at least one report (scroll down) that the “push-poll” survey begins with a question about whether the voter is aware of McCain’s military service (a point of contrast with Romney’s past that clearly benefits McCain). McCain’s campaign adamantly denies any involvement in the calls (as does Giuliani’s campaign), and McCain filed a complaint about them with the New Hampshire AG’s office. By blaming McCain-Feingold, Romney was probably trying — inartfully — to remind people of the recent stories about the 501 c (4) group that set up shop to help McCain — and which McCain disowned. But, as I said, it was inartful.