FOLLOWING MONEY IN 2016 PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

LISTEN (and READ): John McCain: Nothing Personal, Kirk (Adams), But I'd Rather Watch TV Than Help You Raise Money! (But, I'll Help, Anyway.)

Last week, we noted that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) had given an "interesting" interview in March which had just aired on an NPR program;  due to other news stories and other things going on, I had not taken the time to post it yet.  The Frank Antenori problems filing his campaign finance reports reminded me to get the interview up here.  (No, Sen. McCain did not reference the state Senator running to replace Gabrielle Giffords in Congress.)

McCain was reunited with his old Senate buddy, Russ Feingold, the retired Democratic Senator from Wisconsin with whom McCain worked on campaign finance reform legislation together.  The two sat for an interview with NPR's "This American Life" program, and portions of it were aired on March 30.  In it, McCain blasts the U.S. Supreme Court decision (Citizens United) overturning McCain-Feingold and the Justices' questions' "naivete" during oral arguments.  He attacks the "arrogance of some of the questioners... particularly (Justice Antonin) Scalia with his sarcasm" and "guarantee(s)" that there will be a scandal resulting from the free-for-all that has resulted from the Supreme Court's decision.





Later in the interview, he illustrates the near-universal distaste for the fundraising process with an example that hits close to our home:


After this program, I'm going to a fundraiser.  [laughter]  For, it's for
a guy whose name is Kirk Adams, who is running for the US
House of Representatives.  And I can assure you, I would much
prefer to be watching the first round of March Madness.
[Laughter]  So, so you, if I may illustrate your point [laughter], it, it,
it's the, it's the system, and it's the, and the water in which we
swim.

That interview was conducted on Thursday, March 15 (it was actually termed by the NCAA as the 2nd Round, but that's a rant for another day!), presumably in Washington, D.C. (there were Senate votes that day, which the Senator was present for).  The campaign finance report including that fundraiser is not yet due.

Adams is running against former Congressman Matt Salmon for the Republican nomination in new-CD5.

The transcript of the portion that aired on the NPR programis below the jump, but here is a link to the audio and transcript.    "This American Life" last week released the audio and the transcript of the entire interview with McCain and Feingold.

BONUS NOTE:  Rep. Jeff Flake (R-CD6-running-for-Senate) also was interviewed/excerpted earlier in the hour-long program, about the pressure on Congresspeople to fundraise for their parties:






Andrea Seabrook

But there's one catch to getting on a good committee or taking a leadership spot.

Jeff Flake

Where much is given, much is required

Alex Blumberg

Jeff Flake, the Republican from Arizona, says once you get on a good committee or become a chairman, your party's leadership expects you to raise even more money and turn it over to them, so that they can spread it around to members who are less fortunate. Ones in tight races who don't have such an easy time fundraising for themselves. Remember that list of the A, B, and C committees? Flake says leadership makes those targets pretty explicit.

Jeff Flake

We were given dues and assessments. And if you're a senior member on committees that lend themselves to fundraising, and you're either a ranking member or you're the chairman, then you're expected to raise a lot of money.

Andrea Seabrook

Or?

Jeff Flake

Or when you come up every two years to either retain your position or move to another committee, those things are certainly taken into account.

Andrea Seabrook

Do they tell you this?

Jeff Flake

I think that's implied. I think it's pretty well understood.

Andrea Seabrook

Lawmakers of both parties told us that if you're on a good committee, you regularly get called up in front of your party's leaders to go over your fundraising numbers.




Act Three. The O.G.s

Ira Glass

Act Three, The O.G.s. In the wake of Citizens United-- it seems like forever ago, but it was only a decade ago, in 2002, that Congress voted to reform how money works in politics when it passed BiCRA, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold, after the Republican and Democratic senators who sponsored the legislation, John McCain and Russ Feingold.

Russ Feingold

John, how are you?

John Mccain

Well, I miss you. You're not missing a thing, but I miss you.

Ira Glass

For this last act, we wanted to talk with the two senators who have spent so much of their political lives fighting to lessen the impact of money in the political system. John McCain, of course, was the 2008 Republican nominee for President. He's still in the Senate, representing Arizona. Russ Feingold was swept out of office in the 2010 election. He'd represented Wisconsin there since 1993. He's now teaching at Stanford University. The two men spoke with Alex, Andrea, and Ben. And, listening to this interview, one of the things that stands out most is, well, how angry they sound when they're talking about the Citizens United decision. For example, McCain talking about the part of the Supreme Court ruling that says that candidates are not supposed to coordinate with the Super PACs that support them.

John Mccain

The joke that they are not coordinating with the campaigns, it's beyond ridiculous. People who are part of their campaigns go over to run the PAC-- but they're not coordinating anything, don't get me wrong. Gambling is not taking place in this establishment. I mean, it's beyond belief.

Ira Glass

What Senator McCain is referring to is the fact that the candidate's own staffers are often the ones who leave to run these Super PACs. A pro-Obama Super PAC called Priorities USA is run by President Obama's former deputy press secretary. Carl Forti who is political director of American Crossroads and senior strategist for a pro-Mitt Romney Super PAC called Restore Our Future, used to be Mitt Romney's political director. We'll pick up our interview here where the two senators are talking about what it was like the day they went over to observe the Supreme Court hearing arguments during the Citizens United case.

John Mccain

At first, I was outraged. The day that Russ and I went over and observed the arguments, the questions that were asked, the naivety of the questions that were asked and the arrogance of some of the questioners, it was just stunning. Particularly Scalia with his sarcasm. Why shouldn't these people be able to engage in this process? Why do you want to restrict them from their rights of free speech? And the questions they asked showed they had not the slightest clue as to what a political campaign is all about and the role of money that it plays in political campaigns. And I remember when Russ and I walked out of there, I said, Russ, we're going to lose and it's because they are clueless. Remember that day we were over there, Russ?

Russ Feingold

Absolutely, John. I couldn't agree with you more. It clearly was one of the worst decisions ever of the Supreme Court. The trouble with this issue-- and I think John would agree with this-- is people have gotten so down about it, they think it's always been this way. Well, it's never been this way, since 1907. It's never been the case that when you buy toothpaste or detergent or a gallon of gas, that the next day that money can be used on a candidate that you don't believe in. That's brand new. That's never happened since the Tillman act and the Taft Hartley Act. And so, people have to realize this is a whole new deal. It's not business as usual.

Ben Calhoun

The two of you, given the time and political capital that you put into passing the reform that you did--

John Mccain

We've still got the scars to--
[LAUGHTER]

Ben Calhoun

And given that, when you look at the current situation, I wonder if you feel a little bit like Sisyphus with the rock at the bottom.

John Mccain

I feel a great sense of disappointment and sorrow, because we did see the corruption that existed before. And now you could make an argument that we've gone back further, even, than we had been before. Before there were at least some restrictions-- particularly on corporations and unions-- but now it's just-- it's inevitable as the sun will come up tomorrow. There will be scandals. I don't know exactly what it's gonna be, but I guarantee you, there's too much money washing around the political arena today.

Russ Feingold

I've had conversations with Democratic givers out here in the Bay Area and I'll tell you, you wouldn't believe the requests they're getting. The opening ante is a million dollars. It's not, gee, it'd be nice if you give a million. That's sort of the baseline. This is unprecedented. And, in fact, one thing that John and I experienced was that sometimes the corporations that didn't like the system would come to us and say, you know, you guys, it's not legalized bribery, it's legalized extortion. Because it's not like the company CEO calls up to say, gee, I'd love to give you some money. It's usually the other way around. The politician or their agent who's got the Super PAC, they're the ones that are calling up and asking for the money. So a lot of businesses, I think, are going to help us rebel against this and say, you know, we don't want to be a part of this mess.

Alex Blumberg

You know, Andrea and I and Ben and I have been talking to lots and lots of people who are involved-- politicians, lobbyists, talking to them about the process of fundraising. Most of the people we talked to hate it. They hate making those phone calls, they hate going into that room, they hate going to the fundraisers morning, noon, and night, they hate sucking up to people to give them money to get elected. Why don't more people try to change it?

John Mccain

After this program, I am going to a fundraiser for a guy whose name is Kirk Adams who is running for the US House of Representatives. And I can assure you, I would much prefer to be watching the first round of March Madness. So if I may illustrate your point, it's the system and it's the water in which we swim. And, as you say, I know of no one who likes it, but it is the system. I happen to think--

Alex Blumberg

But why don't more people join you in fighting it? That's what I don't understand.

Russ Feingold

Well, they did. We managed to get-- against all odds, we did get people. It took a lot of hard work. Now the problem is, of course, is people are reticent to do that because they got elected under the system.

Alex Blumberg

So it's just fear of change?

Russ Feingold

Sure. When you win a certain way, your people say to you, hey, this is how we do it and this is how we won. We better not mess with success. I think that's one of the problems in this presidential race, where not only the Republicans, but even my candidate, President Obama, has opened the door to this unlimited money through some of his people. It's hard to get people to change something after they win that way. And that's one of my worries about it.

Ira Glass

Former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold and his 2002 legislative partner, Arizona Senator John McCain, with Andrea Seabrook, Alex Blumberg and Ben Calhoun. Senator Feingold's the author of the book, While America Sleeps.



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