- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

Sen. John McCain is behind a nationwide TV advertising and lobbying blitz organized by a liberal advocacy group and financed by wealthy Democratic donors to promote passage of his campaign finance reform bill.

His role in the Common Cause campaign came under attack Friday, with accusations of "hypocrisy," because Mr. McCain has led the charge against the role of "special interests" and wealthy individuals in politics.

Now it appears that Mr. McCain has organized elite funding of a special-interest campaign to promote public support for his bill, with financing coming mostly from two wealthy men committed to liberal, pro-Democratic causes.

The ad campaign, announced Thursday in the Capitol Hill hearing room of the Senate Commerce Committee, of which Mr. McCain is the chairman, is sponsored by Americans for Reform, whose spokesman is Howard Opinsky, the Arizona Republican's former presidential-campaign spokesman.

One of the ads' major backers is Internet billionaire and gun-control advocate Andrew McKelvey, whose group Americans for Gun Safety featured Mr. McCain in TV ads last year supporting gun-restriction referendums.

Mr. McKelvey donated $114,872 to the ad campaign for the campaign finance bill.

Retired businessman Jerome Kohlberg contributed $100,000 for the Americans for Reform ads and a recent nationwide tour by Mr. McCain and Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, on behalf of their campaign finance reform bill.

Mr. Kohlberg made his donation Feb. 23 through Campaign for America. Mr. McKelvey made an individual donation March 21. No donations to Americans for Reform are disclosed on its Web site, www.americansforreform.com.

Campaign for America's earlier activities include more than $460,000 worth of TV attack ads against then-Rep. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, in his 1998 Senate race against Democrat Scotty Baesler, a backer of restrictions on such independent expenditures.

A list of donations to McCain-Feingold's media campaign was provided Friday by Common Cause at the request of The Washington Times.

Mr. McCain was attacked Friday by Rep. Tom DeLay, the House majority whip, for his role in the ad campaign, which uses issue-advocacy groups under the umbrella of a generically named group receiving large sums from a few wealthy donors.

The McCain-Feingold bill would ban so-called "soft money" unrestricted donations to political parties and also ban issue advertising by advocacy groups within 60 days of an election. The vote on the bill has been tentatively set at the end of this week.

"Senator McCain, you should be ashamed of yourself," Mr. DeLay said. "After years spent lecturing the public about the evils of soft money, on Thursday you allowed your Senate committee hearing room to be used by a group to launch a series of TV ads that are paid for with the same soft money you claim to despise.

"If, as you say, soft money is such an evil and corrupting influence in politics, why then do you use soft money to further your own personal and political agenda?" the Texas Republican said. "This is the height of hypocrisy."

Mr. McCain said Mr. DeLay should "take a deep breath, get a hold of himself, sit down and read my bill," because activities of Americans for Reform would be permitted, even "encouraged and protected" under the bill.

"Their activities demonstrate that outside groups can successfully engage in issue advocacy under McCain-Feingold. Even if this bill passes, I'm sure Tom will find a way to squeeze a few more millions out of the system," Mr. McCain said in a statement issued by spokeswoman Rebecca Hanks.

Mr. McCain did not respond to inquiries about his role with Mr. Opinsky and Common Cause in organizing Americans for Reform.

McCain-Feingold would not bar the Americans for Reform ads only because the bill bans issue ads in the months before a federal election. It does not affect advocacy on the eve of Senate votes a distinction McCain-Feingold opponents called meaningless.

Patrick Basham, a senior fellow in U.S. politics at the libertarian Cato Institute, said, "A group dedicated to eliminating the influence of paid advertising by independent groups close to an election on the disingenuous grounds that these allegedly unaccountable outside forces may influence voters to the detriment of one or even both of the major-party candidates is buying expensive television time in the final days before a series of key Senate votes in an explicit attempt to influence 100 senators and their constituents back home into voting for a particular piece of legislation."

Common Cause's outside general counsel and lobbyist, Don Simon, worked alongside Mr. McCain all last week on Capitol Hill on behalf of the bill, along with lobbyists of other groups affiliated with Americans for Reform.

Mr. Simon, who was in meetings on McCain-Feingold with senators and lobbyists in the Capitol Friday, did not respond to inquiries.

Americans for Reform is a "who's who" of liberal advocacy groups, including the Children's Defense Fund, Consumer Federation of America, Friends of the Earth, National Council of Churches, Public Citizen, Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters as well as Mr. McCain's own national political action group, Straight Talk America.

Common Cause defended its role in organizing Americans for Reform and financing the ads, saying it "is not only completely legal under current law, but it would be completely legal under McCain-Feingold as well."

The statement issued by Scott Harshbarger, Common Cause president, continued: "Soft money, by definition, is money contributed to the political parties, which in turn spend the money on federal campaigns in order to evade federal campaign finance laws."

Mr. Harshbarger called Mr. DeLay's criticisms "laughable, especially when considering the DeLay record on money in politics, which is decidedly unimpressive."

The organization's Web site says Common Cause is "administrative agent" for the campaign on behalf of McCain-Feingold. Contributions are not tax deductible and the group does not take money from corporations, unions or foreign nationals, the Web site says.

Mr. Basham said he saw great irony in the behind-the-scenes actions of Americans for Reform.

"Nowadays, campaign reformers of all stripes never fail to stress the importance of the full disclosure of the source of the contributions," which Mr. McCain and Americans for Reform did not do until pressed by media, he said.

The group even failed to disclose the cost of the campaign when it publicly previewed the ads in Mr. McCain's Senate hearing room, he said.

Friday, Common Cause spokesman Jeff Cronin said the costs of development and air time for the ads was about $100,000. Common Cause has not disclosed its own monetary contribution to the activities of Americans for Reform.

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