McCain Lambastes Secret Campaign Money, Court’s Citizens United Decision

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March 28, 2012; Source: Chicago Tribune

McCain-Feingold rides again—sort of. A man of integrity by all counts, whether you like his politics or not, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is taking on the world of super PACs and other tax exempt mechanisms that did in the campaign finance reform that he and former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold got Congress to pass in 2002 as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

At a program on campaign finance reform this past week at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., McCain sounded like his old “straight talk” self in taking down the 2010 Citizens United decision and the Supreme Court that authored it. “What the Supreme Court did is a combination of arrogance, naïveté and stupidity the likes of which I have never seen,” he pronounced from the dais. “It’s pretty obvious by the sarcasm from people like [Justice Antonin] Scalia and the absolute naïveté of people I voted for to be members of the Supreme Court, like [Chief Justice John] Roberts and [Justice Samuel] Alito and others, that they had no idea what political campaigns are about. They were incredibly naive.”

Since when is a corporation a person?” he asked, echoing the sentiments of many an Occupy Wall Street activist (and not just a few Tea Partiers, too).

McCain took aim at the leaders of both political parties, reminding his audience that he accepted public financing of his presidential campaign, but Barack Obama didn’t, despite promising to do so. He suggested that the likelihood of a new pitch for campaign finance reform legislation wouldn’t go very far at the moment: “I’ve got to wait until we think that we can pass legislation and I’m not sure right now, frankly, that we could get it passed,” he said. “I think there is probably a majority of Republicans right now that would vote against it because Republicans are profiting by it and there’ll be a lot of Democrats who won’t want to take it up.”

McCain could take a small step to change the situation by supporting the DISCLOSE Act, but he didn’t support the 2011 version and hasn’t co-sponsored the 2012 bill. Perhaps he thinks partial measures aren’t enough.

What is unclear to us is McCain’s thinking about what will move the nation and Congress to reconsider campaign finance reform. “It’s going to take a scandal,” he said. “And there will be one. I tell you right now there will be one.” What could be more scandalous than what is happening right now? What kind of scandal might there be, given how much secret money is already flowing from 501(c)(4) organizations (that supposedly have a social welfare function) into partisan political activities? Just ask McCain’s partner, Russ Feingold, who is no longer in the Senate because he was done in by the secret financing of (c)(4)s and PACs.—Rick Cohen