Fudndraising and Iseman, two unwelcome stories for McCain

This is probably the best time for stories that put McCain in a bad light to come out. Everyone's attention is focused on the Democratic race, and Republicans have settled on their nominee. Moreover, there are still more than 8 months from the general election. That said, the combination of two stories raising questions about McCain's ethics right now does not bode well for the Arizona Senator, since it problematizes what is usually viewed as his main appeal.

Many media outlets are now all over this story, as is shown by today's Daily News cover. Predictably, the press does not know what to focus on today. What is the main point of the story? Is it the suggestion of yet another sex scandal? Or is it his too close for comfort ties with a lobbyist? This cover exemplifies this
strategy, as the graphic coupled with the word "shocker" and the vagueness of the word "link" definitely hints at a romantic involvement, when that is not the essence of the story. Meanwhile, the Washington Post posted its own story on this, and concentrated more closely on the ethics angle, including this key paragraph:

Three telecom lobbyists and a former McCain aide, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Iseman spoke up regularly at meetings of telecom lobbyists in Washington, extolling her connections to McCain and his office. She would regularly volunteer at those meetings to be the point person for the telecom industry in dealing with McCain's office.

McCain's strategy in response to this story is clear: The enemy is the New York Times, and the angle has to be pushed that the paper is out to destroy the GOP nominee (though unsaid goes the fact that if the NYT really wanted to help Dems it would have published its story in December to help take out the strongest general election Republican, or later in the year when the media wasn't focused on Dems). In other words, make the NYT the topic of conversation here, not McCain's dealing with Iseman. This is the tactic that was also used by the Bush Administration to counter things like the wiretapping story, and it did work with some success then (and to be fair there are plenty of questions that should be asked about the NYT here, namely why they have entered in this habit of holding back on stories for months). Naturally, this can also serve as a tactic for rallying the conservative vote.

The second story that is hurting McCain right now is campaign finance, which became an issue a few days ago as McCain and Obama exchanged accusations on whether they were improperly dealing with public funds (background here). The issue surrounding McCain was whether he was allowed to pull back from the public financing system given reports that he may have used the public funds he received as collateral for a loan he took in December. That is supposed to lock him in the system, and would not allow him to withdraw, which would be dramatic for McCain as it would hold him to a $54 million spending ceiling all the way to his September convention, setting up his being buried under the Democrat's advertisement with no way of responding whatsoever.

Now the (Republican) Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, David Mason, has written a letter to McCain saying that the AZ Senator is not allowed to withdraw just yet and that he first has to assure the FEC that he did not use the promise of public funds as collateral -- and the FEC's involvement here is a rather surprising development. In response, the McCain camp is responding that it is allowed to withdraw, that it already has and that it will spend money over the public financing limit no matter what Mason says!

Both the problem and the blessing for McCain here is that the FEC is entirely paralyzed... because it lacks a quorum. The Senate has been in a stalemate about 4 new FEC nominees, and there are only 2 members of the FEC out of 6 right now. That means that Mason cannot enforce any ruling, and that McCain can spend as much as he wants without impunity. But it also means that McCain has no one to appeal to, and that Mason's saying that McCain cannot withdraw is for now the only word we will get out of the FEC. That alone could be a problem for McCain, since he has been seeking to attack Obama on his own refusal to abide by public financing. If McCain faces his own questions now, it makes his attacks that much weaker -- not to mention that it is another hit at the armor of an ethical maverick McCain.


  • This should keep Hickabee in the race and put a big smile on his face! It's also going to make it that much harder for McCain to mend fences with the far right who never wanted him to begin with. Bay Buchanan was practically foaming at the mouth last night on tv, filled with venom that this story had not broken a month earlier to save Mitt...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 21 February, 2008 10:56  

  • McCain has a major problem with his campaign loan, FEC or no FEC. He apparently collateralized the loan in part with a covenant that he wouldn't abandon the race even if he lost NH so as to remain eligible for federal funds he could use to repay the loan.

    My guess is that this was scrubbed by the legal teams in the campaign, but legality isn't the point. It smells to the heavens for the avatar of fiscal responsibility to milk the federal cow to repay a private lender even after he's effectively out of the race. Great use of taxpayer money.....

    By Anonymous zoot, At 21 February, 2008 11:27  

  • I don't know...

    Sex or complex financial rules... Which will the media focus on?

    Personally, I'm more concerned about the money, but I doubt I'm in the majority.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 21 February, 2008 13:07  

  • I'm with you, CS. I don't care if he's been coupling with small mammals - that's between him and his GU specialist - but I care a whole lot if he's been dipping into my pocket.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 21 February, 2008 15:57  

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