Since The New York Times’s explosive story on Feb. 21, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been under intense scrutiny for his willingness to use his former position as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee to benefit campaign contributors.
In 1999, McCain wrote two controversial letters to the FCC on behalf of broadcaster and campaign contributor Lowell “Bud” Paxson. He urged the commissioners to make a “rapid decision on Paxson’s quest to acquire a Pittsburgh television station.” McCain had flown on Paxson’s corporate jet on four occasions, and received $28,000 in contributions from Paxson and his law firm.
McCain has insisted that his letter-writing had nothing to do with Paxson. In fact, he claimed that he wasn’t even on Paxson’s side; he simply wanted the FCC to make a decision.
Yet the Paxson case wasn’t an isolated incident. In 2000, reporters reviewed 2,000 pages of correspondences from McCain and his staff. They found that “in the vast majority of those particularly regulatory matters were Mr. McCain himself sent a letter, the interested parties had contributed to his presidential or Senate campaigns” [New York Times, 1/6/00]. Some examples:
— In 1998, McCain wrote the FCC a letter asking it to give “serious consideration” to allowing BellSouth to enter the long-distance market. Just four months earlier, on May 6, 1998, BellSouth officials had donated $16,750 to McCain. [Boston Globe, 1/9/00]
— In June 1998, McCain wrote to the FCC “on behalf of AT&T, Spring, and MCI Worldcom,” even though he had “long favored the so-called Baby Bells.” Two weeks later, Spring donated $2,000. In October 1998, AT&T officials gave him $25,800. [Boston Globe, 1/9/00]
— In May 1999, McCain wrote to the FCC and accused it of “bias against Ameritech and SBC Communications,” two companies seeking to merge. Just before his May letter, “officials and lobbyists for the two companies helped him raise almost $120,000.” Ameritech was led by Richard Notebaert, a “friend and leading fund-raiser” for McCain. [Boston Globe, 1/7/00; New York Times, 1/6/00]
— In 1998, McCain wrote two letters on behalf of satellite television companies Echostar and DirecTV, “in an effort help them win permission to carry local broadcast signals. Echostar’s chairman raised about $25,000 for McCain” in the period between the two letters. [Boston Globe, 1/9/00]
— On Dec. 1, 1998, McCain wrote a letter to the FCC advocating against tighter restrictions, which were “clearly not in the spirit” of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. In the months before the letter, Paxson and Sinclair officials donated about $17,000 to McCain’s campaign. [Boston Globe, 1/9/00]
In 2000, George W. Bush sharply criticized McCain for his unethical behavior. “I think it’s really important for people who advocate reforms to live to the spirit of the reforms they advocate,” said Bush. Now, however, Bush is blaming newspapers for highlighting McCain’s lapses to the public.