- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2000

Sen. John McCain, on the campaign trail decrying "big money" in politics, Thursday night beamed his image into the ballroom of the Willard Hotel, where corporate lobbyists were helping raise as much as $500,000 for his presidential bid.

They are the same lobbyists who press Mr. McCain's Senate Commerce Committee to act on legislation that affects their corporate clients AT&T;, United Airlines and other giants.

"John McCain wants to break the iron triangle of lobbyists, money and legislation," said George Vranderburg, senior vice president of America Online, one of more than 300 people on hand for the event which cost $500 to $1,000 to attend. "Money is corrosive of both politicians and business."

In addition to those attending the event, more than 500 people paid $100 each to chat with the Arizona senator over the Internet.

Mr. McCain, appearing via satellite from South Carolina, where he was campaigning for the Feb. 19 Republican primary, said: "We've got to eliminate soft money," referring to the contributions to political parties that are not subject to campaign-finance limits.

The candidate, who is running on a pledge to change the way campaigns are financed, finds himself having to use the system he criticizes in order to fund his presidential bid.

Three-fourths of the 44 members of Mr. McCain's "victory committee" for Thursday night's fund-raiser were lobbyists, most of them with interests before the Commerce Committee.

Among the hosts for last night's event, expected to raise $200,000, were former Rep. Vin Weber from Minnesota, a member of Mr. McCain's national steering committee whose clients include AT&T; and Microsoft; and former Federal Election Commission chairman Trevor Potter, a McCain campaign attorney now with a law firm that represents CBS Corp. and United Airlines.

The list also included Ed Hamberger, head of the Association of American Railroads, and lobbyist from CSX and Union Pacific. Mr. McCain has introduced legislation to renew the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates the railroad industry.

Mary McAuliffe, a lobbyist for Union Pacific, emphasized she was at the Willard to support Mr. McCain personally.

"He used to have a bill to eliminate PACs; we were very much opposed to that," she said. "He is now targeting soft money. It's not my favorite position of the senator's, but I support him because he is a great person, honorable and courageous." She added, "John McCain is going to do what is right."

"I support John's campaign finance reforms because I don't like the system," said lobbyist Wayne Vallis, who served in the administrations of Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan and who attended Thursday night's McCain event.

A dozen demonstrators staged a protest outside the Willard Hotel, carrying signs reading: "Stop the Double Talk Express," "Big Labor Thugs for McCain," and "Reformer Reform Thyself."

One of the demonstrators was Henry Hough, a retired Army lieutenant colonel from Alexandria, Va., who said, "I believe some of McCain's policies are dangerous for the country… . The only kind of campaign finance reform should be full disclosure and paycheck protection," referring to provisions allowing union members to prevent their dues from being used for political purposes.

Like other congressional committee chairmen, Mr. McCain is following the well-worn path of raising campaign money from the industries that come under his panel's jurisdiction.

The railroad association president, Mr. Hamberger, has known Mr. McCain for 20 years, said Steve Hart, senior vice president for policy and communications.

The victory committee also includes lobbyists from the Fox television network and the National Association of Broadcasters. Mr. McCain has introduced legislation to allow the networks to increase the number of TV stations they own so they can reach half of the national audience, up from the current 35 percent.

Mr. McCain also is playing a leading role in negotiations with the House on legislation to renew the Federal Aviation Administration and on a bill that would privatize the world communications satellite network and end Comsat's monopoly in giving U.S. companies access to it.

Three members of the lobbying firm of Higgins, McGovern & Smith helped to raise money for the fund-raiser. The firm's clients include America West and PanAmSat. The Senate version of the FAA bill would make it possible for America West to offer service to Arizona from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, while PanAmSat has lobbied to end Comsat's monopoly.

Carl Smith, a partner in the lobbying firm, said he served with Mr. McCain in the Navy and was supporting him now.

Scott McClellan, campaign spokesman for Republican rival Texas Gov. George W. Bush, said that Mr. McCain "who said he will not take PAC contributions, actually takes a larger portion of his contributions from Washington special interests than any candidate, while Governor Bush is the one candidate who fully and rapidly discloses his campaign contributors, 173,000 from all 50 states."

Staff writer Ralph Z. Hallow contributed to this report.

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