The Federal Election Commission leadership is “corrupt” and should resign for refusing to regulate political groups that are spending millions of dollars to attack both presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain said yesterday.
The Arizona Republican and co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law called the FEC “disgraceful and despicable in its conduct” for allowing independent groups to exploit the Section 527 tax designation and raise millions of donations in soft money.
“We’ve got to reform the Federal Election Commission,” Mr. McCain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The FEC voted Aug. 19 to restrict funds collected by the tax-exempt “527 groups,” but not until the next election cycle. The new rules would restrict the size of donations and end the large amounts such as those donated by anti-Bush billionaire George Soros.
President Bush and Mr. McCain agreed on Thursday to seek legal action to restrict all the television advertisements, including those run by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which have questioned Sen. John Kerry’s service in Vietnam and his anti-war activism upon returning to the United States.
If court action is not successful, “then we should act legislatively in September” when Congress returns from its summer recess, Mr. McCain said.
Mr. McCain said commission Vice Chairman Ellen Weintraub is an “apparatchik” of the Democratic Party and that Chairman Bradley Smith, a Republican appointee, does not believe in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, so both “should resign because they refuse to enforce the law.”
“When Ms. Weintraub says that it’s too confusing to enforce the law — for three years they were supposed to enforce the law against 527s. Why? Because the law says any organization that engages in partisan political activity shall be governed by the same campaign finance laws. They refuse to enforce that,” Mr. McCain said.
Meanwhile, first lady Laura Bush said in an interview with Time magazine that there have been “millions of terrible ads against my husband” and, therefore, it was fair that the Swift Boat veterans have their say about Mr. Kerry.
“Do I think they’re unfair? Not really,” Mrs. Bush said, according to excerpts released by the magazine yesterday.
Mr. Kerry’s campaign said her comments are “more sad evidence that these attacks have been coordinated from the top down at the White House.”
“The president still stubbornly refuses to repudiate these lies,” said Stephanie Cutter, communications director for the campaign.
Retired Adm. Roy Hoffman, founder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Mr. Kerry’s former commander, also told Time that his group will run the ads until the election, despite condemnation from Republicans and Democrats.
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has raised $2.5 million on its Web site since the original advertising buy of $500,000. Anti-Bush groups such as America Coming Together, MoveOn.org and the Media Fund have raised a combined $64 million.
“I say shame on you, Mr. Soros, and shame on all of the people who are funding these, both from the Republican side as well as the Democrat side,” Mr. McCain said.
“We’re not trying to shut you up. We’re saying live by the same rules. In other words, the hard money that funds my campaign,” Mr. McCain said.
Mr. Bush has stated repeatedly that he was “angered by the 527s,” Mr. McCain said. “The first attacks were very bitter and vicious attacks at the president of the United States. I think he has a very legitimate complaint.”
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, dismissed the Swift Boat ads as an attempt to “fight the Vietnam War all over again.”
“The bottom line is that these were, you know, smears. And I think the American public are seeing that,” Mrs. Clinton said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”