ME-01: Change Congress

This past week was National Sunshine Week, a period dedicated to furthering open government and discussion.  So I guess this announcement is fitting.

I've spent years advocating for Maine's public financing laws, because I feel our campaign finance system needs fundamental changes.  So in my campaign for Congress, I'm putting my money where my mouth is.  I'm banking my campaign on the support of individual voters, not the support of special interest lobbyists or federal PACs.

Today, I'm taking my commitment to clean elections one step further.

I'm proud to announce that moments ago, even though my internal polling shows that I am neck and neck with my opponent, I signed on with the Change Congress Movement, a plan to start eliminating the influence of big-money contributors in politics, and to restore our government to the people.

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McCain Still Playing Fast and Loose with Finance, Ethics Law

John McCain doesn't think the rules apply to him:

In a related development, the McCain campaign said Thursday it would reimburse the federal government about $3,000 for political travel expenses incurred during his current trip to the Middle East and Europe. McCain on Thursday was in Britain, where he attended a $1,000-per-person fundraising lunch at London's Spencer House. McCain has been traveling with Sens. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., both supporters of his candidacy. The group had already been to Iraq, Jordan and Israel.

The campaign has defended the mostly taxpayer financed trip as crucial for members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. But Democratic National Committee General Counsel Joe Sandler said McCain should cover a greater portion of the trip with campaign funds.

Here's Sandler, via release:

"The 2007 ethics reform law and the regulations implementing it require that when a candidate mixes campaign and official travel when using a government plane, the campaign travelers must reimburse the government for the full cost of an equivalent round trip charter flight.  Reasonable estimates place the cost of a one-way charter flight from Washington to London at between $20,000 and $56,000.  As a result, McCain's stated intention to reimburse the federal government $3,000 almost certainly falls far short of what the law requires."

We're not talking about a whole lot of money here, a difference of as little as $17,000 and as much as $53,000. But the principle of this does matter. What's clear here is that McCain -- the man who has tried to cultivate an image as a reformer, the one who has tried to limit the corruptive power of money in politics -- apparently believes that he is above the law. And this is the first time. There are already serious questions as to whether McCain is operating outside the bounds of campaign finance law by spending more than he is allowed to under the public financing system he opted into by using the promise of federal funds to secure a loan and by using his participation in the program to secure ballot access (which, in and of itself, is worth upwards of $3 million).

The real question now, then, is whether the media will hold McCain to account for his repeated actions to undermine the spirit and letter of campaign finance and ethics regulations. Truth be told, I'm not holding my breath...

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The Clinton's sleaziest donors

The New Republic printed a great run through of some of Bill and Hillary's greatest hits in campaign finance. Now, imagine we're in the middle of the election and across the stage we have Mr. McCain-Feingold go on and on about how campaign finance reform is so near and dear to his heart. In fact he helped write what has become the most important word in that field in our generation! Even better, he gets to talk to all of the moderates/independents that this shows his political courage because it's one of the issues that the right wingers absolutely HATE him for supporting. And what does nominee Hillary have to say? Probably just shed a tear or have a coughing fit. Whatever it is, McCain's talking points will probably be taken from this article. d=076fd56f-4aca-4683-a9d1-3c55d748946e&a mp;k=60222

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It's Time for Primary Spending Limits: Not a Candidate Diary

The time has come.  

Our political system is dominated by big money, and categorizing its influence as the work of "special interests" is misleading.  At its heart the corrosive influence of money on the political process is something far more sinister, it's perhaps the most subtle form of domination of our domestic political order to have ever existed.  As much as pundits lament the excesses of the old days of the Democratic "machines" at least then, candidates were required to earn the support of party activists. In the post war period, this allowed working people the greatest influence that they have ever had on the political process in this country, and paid divdends for the working class.

Those days are gone, but the time has come for change to reduce the influence of money in the system.  The time has come for the Democratic party to impose spending limits for our primary season.

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Don't Concede Issues of Ethics and Clean Government to McCain

John Edwards making the case for his candidacy:

"Well, he is starting to look like the Republican nominee," Edwards said in response to a reporter's question about McCain, "and I think it's important for us to have somebody to run against McCain who can beat him. And national polls show that I'm the one who beats John McCain in the general election. And second, I think even more important than that, this is a guy who's made central to his political life campaign finance reform. It seems to me we ought to be putting somebody up against him who's never taken money from special interest PACs or Washington lobbyists. Between the three of us, that's me." [emphasis added]

Leaving aside a debate over whether John Edwards would be the strongest Democrat to go up against John McCain in a general election, I'd like to focus a bit on Edwards' language here. I don't mean to pick on Edwards but rather to use his language here as an example of what I believe we cannot and should not do when dealing with McCain, particularly if he is the Republican nominee.

McCain has done a great job of courting the media, not only over the past 8 to 10 years but throughout his entire career, and on the basis of this close relationship with the establishment press he has been able to position himself as a true champion of clean government. But is he? Is this something that Democrats should be conceding to him?

The only reason why McCain took up the mantle of campaign finance reform was that he was intimately caught up in the Keating Five corruption scandal back in the 1980s -- a scandal that could have strong legs in a general election this year even though it occurred so long ago. In short, the scandal entailed Charles Keating, the head of a Savings and Loan institution that went belly up, and the steps he took -- including trying to call in favors from Senators to whom he and associates had given trips and donated campaign money -- to try to get Congressional investigators off of his back. In an era when the federal government is faced with the possibility of having to bail out billions or even trillions in bad debt resulting from the subprime lending industry, a politician's involvement in a corruption scandal linked to a similar boondoggle -- in the case of the savings and loan crisis, the federal government picked up a tab of close to $125 billion -- isn't necessarily going to be a positive.

And just how closely was McCain tied to the Keating Five scandal? Very. Though McCain might try to downplay his involvement, his campaigns received $124,000 from Keating and his associates during the 1980s (AP, 3/2/91), and McCain was described as being personally closer to Keating than any of the other members of the Keating Five (Roll Call, 1/20/92). What's more, McCain accepted more than $15,000 in free trips from Keating, including vacations to Keating's resort in the Bahamas -- trips that McCain failed to disclose at the time (New York Times, 2/28/91; San Francisco Chronicle, 12/3/90).

With a record like this, do we really want to concede issues of ethics and clean government to McCain? Shouldn't we instead be hitting him hard for his improprieties? I certainly think so. And I definitely hope that in the case that McCain wins the Republican nomination this year that whomever the Democrats nominate roasts McCain on the issue as he so deserves to be roasted.

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