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Watchdog’s Conflicted Feelings About McCain

In reporting on the FEC, I spoke with a few D.C. public interest groups who spend much of their time trying to clean up the billion-dollar campaign finance industry. These advocates don’t know quite what to make of John McCain. Meredith McGhee, policy director at Campaign Legal Center, lauded McCain for his record on reform, most notably the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law that changed soft money rules. But others, like Common Cause’s writer Mike Surresco and Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer, were mostly upset that it looked like McCain was getting a free pass for possibly violating campaign finance laws during the presidential primary.

The insinuation is that McCain’s campaign successfully pressured the White House and top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell to nominate FEC commissioners that wouldn’t scrutinize a Democratic National Committee complaint about McCain’s campaign finances. But Surresco and Wertheimer were quick to point out that the latest machinations were a sign of a broken FEC, not anything uniquely nefarious done by the McCain campaign.

Like Wertheimer and Surresco, McGhee’s Campaign Legal Center wishes to rip up the FEC and start all over. But CLC’s battles with the FEC have a twist. The group’s founder, Trevor Potter, was an FEC chairman during the Clinton administration. He’s now legal counsel for McCain and advised him on taking out a loan that possibly used public money as collateral. McGhee would still like see McCain’s loan investigated. But CLC’s ties to McCain show the indebtedness that the advocacy world may still have toward the candidate.

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