- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

In his relentless, indefatigable efforts to "reform" the role of money in American politics during the first six months of 2001, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain somehow found time to raise and spend more than $1 million from his leadership political action committee (PAC). To nobody's surpirse, Mr. McCain's "Straight Talk America" leadership PAC, unlike the dozens of other leadership PACs run by congressional politicos, spent the vast bulk of its money promoting none other than … John McCain.
Most leadership PACs limit their overhead expenses in order to maximize the amount of donations they can distribute to fellow party members. Mr. McCain's PAC, however, operates in opposite direction. Straight Talk America contributed less than $14,000 to other Republicans from January through June, while dishing out $15,000 per month (or $90,000 for the six-month period) to his presidential political strategist, John Weaver, according to an eye-opening account in Roll Call last week. Mr. Weaver, who, like his boss, refuses to issue a categorical statement that would rule out a challenge against President Bush in the 2004 Republican presidential primaries, seemed to be earning his money. On the same day Roll Call's story appeared, a smiling John McCain adorned the cover of Newsweek as America's poster boy for the battle against skin cancer.
Convincing Republican aides that Mr. McCain's PAC is little more than a vehicle for maintaining the political machine he formed for his unsuccessful 2000 presidential pursuit, Straight Talk America paid out more than $250,000 to consultants and strategists. Another $300,000 paid for direct-mail fund-raising costs, including nearly $80,000 to the firm of Carla Eudy, who played a major role in Mr. McCain's 2000 campaign. Astonishingly, $18,347 or nearly a third more than Mr. McCain's PAC contributed to Republican candidates paid the hotel bill for Mr. Weaver's visits to Washington from New Hampshire. "Good God," an aide to a senior Democrat's leadership PAC exclaimed to Roll Call when told about the overhead costs, "That is amazing."
Amazing, indeed, considering that the leadership PAC of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who harbors presidential ambitions himself, spent less than $160,000 on overhead costs for consultants, strategists and fund-raising. That comes to less than 15 percent of Mr. McCain's overhead. At the same time, Mr. Gephardt's PAC contributed nearly four times as much as Mr. McCain's to fellow party members.
Only Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle's leadership PAC raised more hard dollars than Mr. McCain's PAC. And only Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott's leadership PAC spent more hard money than Mr. McCain's. With total hard-dollar spending exceeding Mr. McCain's by a mere $15,000, or by less than 2 percent, Mr. Lott's PAC managed to contribute more than seven times as much money to other Republicans as Mr. McCain did.
Presumably with a straight face, Mr. Weaver told Roll Call that Mr. McCain's dependence on a leadership PAC a fund-raising tool, by the way, that many of his fellow "reformers" deplore was necessary to finance "a permanent campaign to promote John McCain's agenda." That would make Mr. Weaver the only person on the planet who can tell the difference between the endless, tiring self-promotion of his boss and the supposed promotion of his boss' agenda. Hypocricy aside, Mr. McCain's relentless pursuit of "reform" and probably the presidency as well continues apace.


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