Oh, About That Promise

Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:30pm

A campaign finance reform group is reminding presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) of his earlier pledge to opt into the presidential public financing system, which could lie dormant this year as both parties’ candidates expect to spend $1 billion-plus combined on the presidential primaries and general elections.

“As Americans committed to reforming the nation’s campaign finance laws, we are dismayed by your failure to sponsor or cosponsor the two bills in Congress that would go the farthest in addressing the inequities inherent in the private financing of our elections,” the Public Campaign Action Fund wrote in a petition it said was signed by “thousands of concern citizens.” “We are most deeply concerned about your refusal to pledge to make passing public financing of federal elections a priority if you are elected this November.”

The group’s leaders said Tuesday that they are reminding McCain of his promise as the candidate readies himself for a Washington, D.C., campaign fundraiser that apparently will be attended by 35 lobbyists.

“Amid the news reports regarding the lobbyists associated with your campaign and the U.S. Federal Election Commission complaints filed regarding the legality of your opting out of the current presidential system, the clearest actions you could take to demonstrate your continued commitment to end pay-to-play politics in our nation’s capital would be to cosponsor both these pieces of legislation,” the group also wrote. “It is our view that doing little or proposing half-measures will fall short.”

Both McCain and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) have backed away recently from earlier promises to use the public financing system, which would nullify Obama’s massive fundraising advantage in a potential general-election match-up, while leaving McCain essentially broke between now and when he officially becomes the GOP nominee in September. Each candidate has said he would probably take public financing if the other candidate agreed to.

Occupational Hazard. Texas House Parliamentarian Terry Keel, a Republican, asked Austin-area District Attorney Ronnie Earle (D) last week to prosecute Kelly Fero, a political consultant, for allegedly lying on his blog to benefit a client who was running in a local election.

“The false content in this posting was subsequently referenced in … political campaign communications and the reader of the campaign literature was left to believe that the content originated from sources unrelated to … [the] campaign,” Keel, who was the subject of the alleged smear, claimed in his letter to Earle. “The scheme was effective because … [the] original report was picked up and widely disseminated over and over again by numerous other Web sites, individuals and news outlets.”

While Keel claims that Fero violated several federal and state laws in the process, some online political activists are calling the potential prosecution “a wake-up call for bloggers across Texas to demand that we receive the same rights and privileges as the members of the media are afforded under Texas law.”

“There are numerous problems with this law … when examined in the light of the fact that the Internet has fast become a major means of political communication,” Vince Leibowitz wrote late last week on the Austin-based Capitolannex.com. “There is nothing to stop any political candidate from filing a criminal complaint against a blogger who is opposing them and making the claim that they are getting their information from a political campaign and have agreed to publish it.”

“The Election Code is blind to the fact that political campaigns, consultants, and even grassroots activists use blogs as a primary source for leaking information detrimental to their opposition,” Leibowitz continued. “This is done on both sides of the political aisle.”

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