I just wouldn’t feel like my day was complete without letting Fred Wertheimer know that we’re still waiting for Democracy 21 to weigh in on the way John McCain is openly flauting election law. Now former
FEC chair campaign finance lawyer Bob Bauer is expressing the same critique of the stunningly silent reform groups:
Larry Gold, a well-respected member of the campaign finance bar, has noticed and does not much care for the silence of certain reform organizations—and an uncustomary silence it is—in the face of questions about Senator’s McCain’s Presidential bank loan. He has written a memo, posted by Rick Hasen, to call attention to the startling absence of comment from that corner. His point is that these organizations have had long-standing relationships with McCain, working closely with him on legislative regulatory initiatives, and representing the Senator in Court, and perhaps they now feel obligated to keep to themselves any critical views of his conduct. Mark Schmitt has written something like this, and so has Hasen, though more briefly and less tartly.
No one has argued the case more forcefully than Gold. He poses to these organizations a series of questions that, to understate the point, put them in an embarrassing position. For years, the reform establishment has had a reliable trigger finger, shooting off press releases and calls for investigation at the slightest provocation. These organizations’ effectiveness has depended in no small part on this mastery of confrontational PR. Now, with McCain having to answer rather than ask the questions, there is silence.
It goes too far to say that a number of these reform outfits are favoring the McCain Presidential candidacy. They are more, more than anything else, protecting themselves. To a fault, they have invested heavily in the McCain asset base: he has fought their fights, introduced their bills, promoted their regulatory agendas, helped them secure good press for this all. After so great a dependence on him, the costs of his diminished luster on reform issues are also theirs to pay.
Bauer says that "After all these years, in a sharp turn of the tables, these organizations are being asked to answer for a relationship with a politician that may have been too close, with too many favors traded, albeit for a cause that they all believed to be unimpeachably for the good." It’s the problem many DC interest groups come up against (case in point NARAL) — when asked to choose between their cause and their friends, the cause often loses. But at that point, the institutional rot sets in and their credibility and their integrity are not long for this world.