McCain and Money Potpourri

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Money is a dominant theme in much of today’s coverage of John McCain’s campaign. First, there’s the continuing storyline about staffers and advisers to the McCain campaign having to resign because of their ties to lobbying firms or outside political groups. The latest casualty, deemed the biggest story of the morning by the Washington Post, is Tom Loeffler, the erstwhile national finance co-chairman and longtime McCain friend whose lobbying for Saudi Arabia was revealed over the weekend. Campaign chairman Rick Davis’ lobbyist-cleansing order of last week is proof of three things, all of them related:

1) that there are (or were) a relatively high number of lobbyists in McCain’s inner circle (most of them, like Davis and Charlie Black, are now former lobbyists);
2) that the Democrats, employing the Rovian tactic of attacking your opponent’s greatest perceived strength, hope to tarnish McCain’s image as a reformer scourge of Washington special interests; and
3) that the McCain camp is both worried about the attack’s potential effectiveness and savvy enough to take dramatic action now, in May (at the cost of some blaring headlines), rather than risk the consequences of ignoring it entirely or treating it as a minor irritant.

Then there’s the issue of how to fund the general election campaign, the subject of the New York Times lede this morning. What’s clear from this story is that both McCain and Obama are prioritizing self-interest (or at least the interest of winning the election) in the decisions they make about funding their campaigns. McCain almost resorted to the use of federal matching funds in the primaries because he was broke and seemed to have no other option, then pivoted when he started to win and could raise money unfettered again. Now, because he’s unable to keep pace with Obama’s fundraising, McCain will likely take federal cash for the general election while relying for help on the RNC, which can raise big piles of money from individual wealthy donors.

And then we have Obama, whose ability to raise historic sums of money from small donors will almost certainly lead him to reverse his promise to accept federal funding for the fall campaign. Obama’s contention that being funded by a mass of small donors is really just a form of public financing has a sort of strained, academic merit but is, at bottom, specious.

The guiding principle for both campaigns here is victory. As Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen tells the Times, referring to both candidates, “It’s hard to be a reformer when you’re trying very hard to raise as much money as you can.”

Finally, on the McCain and money front, there’s the matter of Cindy McCain’s wealth. The Times opines on the subject, urging Mrs. McCain and her husband to reconsider their decision not to release her personal tax returns. I doubt they will reconsider, although you never know. In the spring of 2004, the Times, the Wall Street Joural and others urged Teresa Heinz Kerry, another candidate spouse of great and independent wealth, to release her returns. She refused, until October, when the campaign put out a partial release of her 2003 return showing she’d earned more than $5 million in income the previous year.