- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2000

Normally, losers don't get to set the agenda and no, we're not talking about soon-to-be ex-Vice President Al Gore. Unfortunately, it's a Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain who is making loud demands that the incoming Bush administration kowtow to his campaign-finance reform agenda before even considering the Bush legislative agenda.

As if still on the campaign trail, Mr. McCain has been making appearances on television and issuing near-diktats that the Senate begin work on the campaign-finance reform bill he sponsors along with Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. "I will insist we bring it up at the earliest and address it," he said on the CBS "Early Show" recently. "I believe we have the 60 votes" needed to pass it. "We can get it done before the Bush legislative agenda comes over. I think that would be in the best interest of the new administration, as well as the country," he continued.

That's pretty strong stuff coming from a man who didn't even make it to the general election. Mr. McCain ran for the nomination almost as a single-issue candidate on the issue of campaign-finance reform. He lost the race for the Republican nomination fair and square to the Texas governor, who concentrated on other issues. One might glean from this at least a vague suspicion that perhaps campaign-finance reform is not the most important issue to Republican voters let alone the broader electorate. If this were not the case, Mr. McCain, not Mr. Bush, would have been the Republican nominee. As pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick told the Arizona Republic, Mr. McCain may have "overestimated the nation's interest" in campaign-finance reform.

And even if campaign-finance reform is an issue of importance to some, the plain fact of the matter is that Mr. McCain lost and Mr. Bush won. Mr. Bush won twice, to put it exactly. He won the nomination against Mr. McCain and he subsequently defeated Vice President Al Gore for the presidency.

As the successful nominee, it was Mr. Bush's right to craft a platform reflecting his priorities and the priorities of his supporters, not the priorities of Mr. McCain and his supporters. Much more profoundly, as president, it is Mr. Bush's duty to seek the implementation of the policies he espoused during the campaign. It would reflect poorly on Mr. Bush were he to go, hat in hand, to Mr. McCain, kiss his ring and then work hard to secure passage of legislation favored by the Arizona senator before pushing for the things he promised to get done during the campaign. It would be a betrayal of trust and a tacit admission of supplication by the winner to the loser. Not a good way to begin an administration.

The boldness with which Mr. McCain is pushing his agenda is especially interesting given his obscurity during the past several weeks, during which Mr. Bush struggled desperately with Al Gore and his army of lawyers. Mr. McCain was not among the group of prominent GOP figures, such as Montana's Governor Marc Racicot, who did all they could to support Mr. Bush in his time of difficulty. Yet Mr. McCain is now the one making demands of President-elect Bush.

Mr. McCain's fixation on campaign-finance reform, too, is rather curious given his own history as a member of the infamous "Keating Five." Those with memories stretching past this campaign season and Mr. McCain's newfound fixation on campaign-finance reform might recall the 1980s, when Mr. McCain was a great friend of S&L; bandito Charles Keating.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Keating whose collapsed Lincoln Savings and Loan ultimately cost taxpayers a heaving $3.4 billion generously donated at least $112,000 to Mr. McCain. He also provided a private airplane for the senator's use which Mr. McCain availed himself of nine times. On three separate occasions, Mr. McCain accepted junkets to the Bahamas, courtesy, once more, of Mr. Keating who received favorable treatment by the senator and the other members of the "Keating Five."

That may have been then and this, of course, is now. Nonetheless, Mr. McCain is in no position to be dictating terms to the Republican Party or to Mr. Bush.

Campaign-finance reform is a great issue to demagogue, because it dredges up caricatured images of bloated plutocrats handing over a bagful of money to bought-and-paid-for politicians. The solution, though, is not to deprive people including "bloated plutocrats" of their free speech right to support the candidate of their choosing, as Mr. McCain's bill would do. Rather, the solution is a genuine reform of the ill-conceived election laws passed in the wake of Watergate that limit individual and corporate contributions and which thus encourage "soft money" contributions (phone banks, "volunteers," in-kind assistance, etc.) that heavily favor Democrats, who have unions and other such organizations on their side.

Why not let anyone contribute as much as he wishes to any candidate provided that the contribution is fully disclosed? This way, voters can clearly see who is "buying" whom and decide for themselves whether a candidate is under undue influence from the likes of such as Mr. Keating. "Soft money" contributions would become a non-issue and the entire process of campaign fund-raising more transparent and fair.

Better still, why not reduce the power of the federal government, power which is now so great that lobbyists send money to Washington to see if they can "rent" that power for their own ends. Why would anyone try to lobby a federal government that had limited authority to do anything? That may seem unrealistic to some, but it is no more so than Mr. McCain's notion that more restrictions on campaign contributions will mean "cleaner" campaigns.

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