John McCain, the media's darling, has found a clever way around his own campaign finance reform law to take big corporate bucks in furtherance of his political ambitions while carrying water for the corporate mammoth providing the dough. But the national press is ignoring the story.
The Associated Press first ran the story of John McCain's odorous but lucrative Senatorial service to the communications giant Cablevision on the afternoon of March 7. But, while some local papers in McCain's home state (like the East Valley Tribune) have run the story, nothing has as yet made it into the print editions of the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Washington Post, or any of the half-dozen other big city dailies I checked (although, if one searches the hundreds of AP stories available on the Post's website on its Politics page by clicking on "Latest Wire Reports," one can find it there--but how many readers would bother to do that?) One notable exception: the Kansas City Star.
Here's what the AP's investigation found:
McCain repeatedly intervened on behalf of a policy Cablevision favored -- one which "congressional and private studies conclude could make cable more expensive" -- while his chief political adviser, Rick Davis (who's masterminding McCain's probable '08 presidential rerun) solicited $200,000 in contributions from Cablevision to an institute that promotes McCain and pays Davis a $110,000 annual salary.
The Reform Institute was set up to promote McCain and his issues--especially campaign finance reform, embodied in the famous McCain-Feingold law. This Institute is "a tax-exempt group that touts McCain's views and has showcased him at events since his unsuccessful 2000 presidential campaign," and it "often uses the senator's name in press releases and fund-raising letters and includes him at press conferences," the AP says. And, of course, it provides a cushy sinecure with no heavy lifting for McCain's main man, Davis, as he prepares the pontificating Senator's next presidential run. Cablevision's contributions account for a whopping 15% of the Institute's budget.
Now, let's be clear about the phony McCain-Feingold law, which I denounced as "campaign deform" before its passage. The myth is that McCain-Feingold abolished so-called soft money in politics. That's nonsense. It does forbid the national party committees (the RNC and the DNC) from taking soft money--but it leaves a loophole large enough to drive an invading army through, because soft money contributions to state parties are still legal. And, as anyone who closely followed the investigations of the 1996 campaign finance scandals knows, some of the most screamingly unethical influence peddling-and-buying then went on when, to conceal the contributions from a lazy national press corps, millions and millions of dollars in soft money were channeled to state parties by corporate fat-cats seeking to influence government policy and Congressional votes.
Moreover, McCain-Feingold put more corrupting hard money than ever before into the '04 presidential election by doubling the cap on hard money. This provision of McCain-Feingold motored the mushrooming of the practice known as "bundling," by which special interest influence-seekers -- like the lawyer-lobbyists of D.C.'s "Gucci Gulch" and their corporate clients -- get a large number of cronies to max out under the raised McCain-Feingold caps, the individual checks thus collected totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thanks in part to McCain-Feingold, then, the '04 presidential cycle was the most expensive ever in the nation's history. McCain-Feingold was, and is, a fraud.
Why did McCain, a standard-issue Republican conservative, lead the charge for the campaign "deform" law that bears his name? Why, because he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. McCain was one of the infamous Keating 5, the band of Senators--greedy for campaign cash--who sold their favors to jailed Savings and Loan kingpin and junk-bond racketeer Charles Keating in the S&L scandals that rocked Congress in the early '90s. (The S&L scandals were the most expensive corporate fraud in history, costing citizens and taxpayers some $600 billion. There is a pile of good books on the S&L Scandals, especially those by Steve Pizzo--who helped break the story; Pete Brewton; and Martin Mayer.) McCain was whitewashed by a complicitous Senate "ethics" committee, after which the Arizona Senator decided to refurbish his image and become a so-called "reformer"--hence the fraudulent McCain-Feingold bill, which was designed to make people forget his boot-licking service to Keating.
Now, McCain is back at the same old game, this time on behalf of Cablevision and its campaign for an "a la carte" provision, which would allow cable customers to pick the channels they want rather than buy packages of channels. McCain has continued to campaign for this provision even after the independent General Accounting Office -- in a study requested by McCain himself -- concluded that the a la carte provision would considerably raise cable rates for consumers. This is a neat hat trick by McCain: he adds another "reformist" feather to his cap by promoting a populist-sounding measure which, in fact, benefits industry and costs the consumer a packet. And, at the same time he takes money from Cablevision in the form of contributions to a pet group of the Senator's which furthers McCain's presidential ambitions.
The AP investigation found that McCain's assiduous services to Cablevision included "letting its CEO testify before his Senate committee, writing a letter of support to the Federal Communication Commission, and asking other cable companies to support so-called a la carte pricing." Davis solicited the first of two $100,00 installments Cablevision paid to McCain's pet Institute just "one week after [the conglomerate's chief, Charles] Dolan testified before McCain's Senate Commerce Committee in May 2003 in favor of a la carte pricing. And it wasn't until after Cablevision paid up that McCain intervened on behalf of the policy the company sought with the FCC.
There's a lot more detail, but you get the picture. You can read the entire AP story about its investigation of McCain by clicking here.
Just as the media bought McCain's cosmetic makeover when he became a "reformer" -- while its kissy coverage of McCain in 2000 turned the Arizonan into a major national figure, thanks to a fit of collective amnesia -- our leading organs of information are now turning a blind eye to the AP's revelation that McCain is an unethical recidivist who is once again mired in a putrid conflict of interest scandal with a major corporate player. Most of the Inside-the-Beltway press corps seems not to care about this latest McCain chicanery--so you are kept in the dark about it. A free press is a great thing, isn't it?
© 2005 Doug Ireland