At the time, I found the great McCain-Feingold dispute of 199X-2001 incredibly baffling. On the one hand, you had a lot of reformers and liberals lining up behind a law that pretty plainly wasn’t going to make any kind of meaningful difference in the casual corruption of the political process. On the other hand, you had a bunch of conservatives treating John McCain’s heresy on the misguided-but-meaningless piece of legislation as if he were personally performing abortions for married lesbian couples on the Senate floor. George Will, in particular, was just vicious and, as you can see with today’s column, still harbors an immense distaste for McCain that I find hard to square with the two men’s respective ideological positioning. That said, Will does us all a service in reminding the world of an under-covered aspect of McCain’s career:
In 2001, McCain, a situational ethicist regarding “big money” in politics, founded the Reform Institute to lobby for his agenda of campaign restrictions. It accepted large contributions, some of six figures, from corporations with business before the Commerce Committee (e.g., Echosphere, DISH Network, Cablevision Systems Corp., a charity funded by the head of Univision).
Unlike his efforts to manipulate the public financing system, this particular McCainite gambit is pretty unambiguously legal, but that very legality and McCain’s eagerness to exploit it mostly seems to me to underscore the hollowness of commitment to political reform. Now who knows, maybe Cablevision just felt really strongly about “soft money” contributions to political parties, but it sure seems pretty unlikely.