McCain's Gravy

Don't buy his poor-boy claims — he can raise big bucks. But will it be his undoing?

So how did the money break down in the final analysis? Just to give you an idea of McCain's fund-raising prowess, here's a list of the companies who gave his Senate campaign big bucks, via their political action committees and/or employees:

More than $20,000: U.S. West, AT&T, BellSouth Corp., Bell Atlantic.

Between $15,000-$19,999: AMR Corp. (Alaska Air's owner), Bank One Corp., News Corp., Phelps Dodge Corp., Boeing Co., Ameritech Corp. (a Baby Bell), CSX Corp. (a railroad).

Between $10,000-$14,999: Bank of America, Federal Express Corp., Cyprus Amax Minerals Co., Hensley & Co., Union Pacific Corp., National Association of Home Builders, Ford Motor Co., Lockheed Martin, National Cable Television Association, Motorola Inc., Del Webb Corp., Allied Pilots Association, American Institute of CPAs, Burlington Northern Inc., MCI WorldCom, SBC Communications, Marshall & Ilsley Corp., Sprint Corp., Americans for Free International Trade, Arizona Public Service Co., Cellular Telecom Industry Association, Citigroup Inc., Marine Engineers Union, National Association of Underwriters, Newport News Shipbuilding, TRW Inc. and United Parcel Service.

As long as McCain chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, companies like these will give him money with the hope of currying favor. Yes, some of the companies listed above are headquartered in Arizona, but for the record, 65 percent of the money McCain raised in 1998 came from out of state.

And 26 percent of it came from, as Campaigns and Elections puts it, "those dastardly denizens of political corruption"--PACs.

Will McCain's push for campaign-finance reform sway the big-money contributors as the senator makes his presidential push? Hard question, Shecter says. But one thing she knows for sure: "They're not going to bite the hand that feeds them."

Her conclusion? "I would say John McCain right now is sitting in the catbird seat. He's got high visibility and he chairs one of the most influential committees in the Senate. . . . If John McCain sent out a fund-raising letter, there would be very few interests that would ignore it."

In any case, John McCain is nowhere in his standing with the GOP mainstream. He's registering barely a blip in the polls, lagging light-years behind Texas Governor George W. Bush.

So, in spite of the character references he's getting from opinion makers on the East Coast, McCain may well need to rely on campaign-finance reform as the issue to energize and win over voters.

Is it fair to castigate John McCain for his fund raising? Really, he's only doing what every other successful modern national leader (except for guys like H. Ross Perot and Steve Forbes, who've used lots of their own cash) has had to do to get elected.

Voters in Arizona, Maine and Massachusetts have approved "Clean Elections" initiatives for public-financing of state campaigns despite the fact that the Clean Elections crowd raised and spent big bucks.

Can McCain count on voters to understand--or believe--that he's in a similar quandary? Will he be seen as a noble pragmatist or a phony?

The people will decide.

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