Congressional Democrats Charge John McCain With Violating Same Campaign Finance Rules He Created

Two new campaign ads funded by -- and starring -- Senator John McCain have Congressional Democrats in a huff.

The ads are for Congressional candidates Jesse Kelly and Ruth McClung and are similar-in-nature to "campaign ads" run by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, in which he didn't so much hype himself, but rather bash the opponents of other candidates he supports.

As we pointed out yesterday, McCain's support of Kelly is a bit on the hypocritical side, too. Read all about that here.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee filed a complaint against The Maverick with the Federal Election Commission, claiming the ads should be considered a political donation to a candidate that exceeds the non-cash donation limit set forth in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act.

"John McCain chose to air television commercials that violate the campaign finance legislation that bears his name, rejecting McCain's years of work on campaign finance reform as well as the legacy of Doris 'Granny D' Haddock, a 90-year-old woman who walked across the country in support of McCain's efforts to enact fundamental campaign finance reform," says Jennifer Crider, DCCC spokesperson. "Senator McCain either doesn't understand the law bearing his name or he has deliberately chosen to break it.  Senator McCain should do the right thing and immediately pull down these illegal ads."

Check out the full complaint below.

October 19, 2010

Christopher Hughey, Esq.

Acting General Counsel

Federal Election Commission

999 E Street, N.W.

Washington, DC  20463

Dear Mr. Hughey:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, by and through its general counsel, files this complaint under 2 U.S.C. § 437g against Senator John McCain; Friends of John McCain, Inc.; Ruth McClung, a candidate for Congress from the 7th District in the state of Arizona; Ruth McClung for Congress; Jesse Kelly, a candidate for Congress from the 8th District in the state of Arizona; and Kelly for Congress ("Respondents"), for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Violating coordination rules that were written as a direct result of McCain-Feingold, Senator McCain is sponsoring an advertisement for two Republican House candidates in vast excess of his legal limits to their campaigns.  The Commission should open an immediate investigation, stop these ongoing violations, and see that Senator McCain commits no further violations of his own law.

A.                FACTS

John McCain is the senior Senator from the state of Arizona; he is on the ballot for re-election this November.  He is the proud architect of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, "McCain-Feingold," which fundamentally reshaped the raising and spending of money in federal elections.  McCain-Feingold required tough new rules on coordinated communications.  And it is these very rules that the McCain campaign is now choosing to ignore.

On or about October 18, 2010, Senator McCain's authorized campaign committee, Friends of John McCain, Inc., began airing two advertisements that feature him standing alongside Senator Jon Kyl, his junior Senator.  In one advertisement, the senators attack Congressman Raul Grijalva and urge the election of his opponent, Ruth McClung.  The advertisement, entitled "Vote Ruth McClung," can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEDoaGQE8_I.  In the other, the senators attack Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and urge the election of her opponent, Jesse Kelly.  That advertisement, entitled "Vote Jesse Kelly," can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWYD1JuRYWw.  On information and belief, both ads are now running on Arizona television stations, in McClung and Kelly's respective districts.

Senator McCain personally approved these ads.  Both end with him saying, "I'm John McCain and I approve this message."  The text disclaimer states "Authorized by John McCain and paid for by Friends of John McCain."


The Federal Election Campaign Act provides that "expenditures made by any person in cooperation, consultation, or concert, with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, his authorized political committees, or their agents, shall be considered to be a contribution to such candidate."[1]  At the direction of McCain-Feingold, the Commission wrote rules providing specifically that a communication will be considered an in-kind contribution to a campaign if it (1) is paid for by an entity other than the campaign; (2) contains express advocacy; and (3) is coordinated with the campaign.[2]

Under McCain-Feingold, agreement or formal collaboration is not required for a finding of coordination.[3]  Indeed, Senator McCain has often complained that the FEC's coordination rules are not strict enough, and has gone to court to strengthen them.  See, e.g., Shays v. FEC, No. 04-5352, 2005 WL 622966 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (Brief Amicus Curiae of Sen. McCain et al.) ( "The loopholes created by the regulations may seem small and hyper-technical to some. But they are neither.  In fact  ...any loophole, no matter the size, will be exploited and lead to consequences directly at odds with the purposes of BCRA. ").

There can be no doubt that these ads were coordinated with McClung and Kelly, even under the current FEC rules as commonly understood.  It is utterly implausible that the state's most senior Republican, who appeared at a Tea Party rally for these two candidates less than ten days ago,[4] would have commenced this ad blitz without their assent, substantial discussion or material involvement.

Moreover, if not coordinated, then the ad would be independent expenditures.[5]  Yet tellingly, neither Senator McCain nor his campaign appears to have filed the necessary statement with the Commission, under penalty of perjury, "as to whether such expenditure was made in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of a candidate ..."[6]  By their own conduct, Senator McCain and his campaign have tacitly admitted that the ads are coordinated.[7]

1.                  The McCain Campaign Has Made Excessive Contributions to McClung and Kelly

As coordinated communications, these advertisements constitute in-kind contributions from Friends of John McCain, Inc. to the McClung and Kelly campaigns.  The value of the advertisements has certainly exceeded the contribution limit.[8]  Thus, Senator McCain's campaign has made - and the McClung and Kelly campaigns have received - illegal in-kind contributions.

2.                  The McCain Campaign Has Violated the Conditions of Its Status as Senator McCain's Authorized Committee

The Federal Election Campaign Act prohibits an authorized campaign committee from supporting more than one candidate.[9]  A special exception allows Senator McCain's campaign only to contribute up to $2,000 to another candidate; it makes no allowance for larger contributions or independent expenditures.[10]  And yet the McCain campaign has spent in vast excess of this limit.  It no longer meets the statutory conditions for authorized committee status, and may not enjoy any of its benefits.

C.                REQUESTED ACTION

This is not the first time Senator McCain has had trouble complying with his own law.  In 2007, the Commission came to the brink of litigation against Senator McCain.  It found reason to believe that he violated the soft money fundraising restrictions, and its general counsel recommended a finding of probable cause that he broke the law.  The Commission ultimately exercised its prosecutorial discretion to take no further action.[11]

Especially at this late hour in the campaign, as he seeks wrongfully to tilt the balance in two contested House elections, the Commission should take immediate action to enjoin Senator McCain and his campaign from further violations.  It should seek the maximum penalties permitted by law.  And given Senator McCain's professed knowledge of campaign finance law, the Commission has no evident alternative but to follow McCain-Feingold and determine whether the violation of law was knowing and willful, hence requiring referral for criminal prosecution.[12]

Very truly yours,

Brian G. Svoboda
General Counsel
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee