Monday, February 20, 2006

The McCain Feingold, Shays Meehan, Rell Bush Connection: Or The Importance Of Mailing Lists

A report early in February from Chris Cillizza, the Washington Post’s political blogger, disclosed that Sen. John McCain, big media’s favorite moderate Republican, will be in Connecticut on March 17 to raise funds for Governor Jodi Rell’s campaign.

Just in time too. Some Democrats were beginning to wonder whether Rell, whose continually high approval rating has astonished both friend and foe, had become “a party of one.” She had successfully defied the expected Republican position on stem cell research and other hot button Republican issues, proving that there is a little McCain in all of us yearning to bust out. Cooption of the kind practiced by the usual Connecticut Republican moderate is intended to anesthetize the opposition.

Given Rell’s stratospheric approval rating, some Democrats are asking, does she need McCain to raise funds for her? Or is it possible that McCain, bitten with presidential aspirations, could use a boost from Rell?

Perhaps McCain’s March appearance may be mutually beneficial.

Conservative columnist Robert Novak recently noted that “Major political contributors to George W. Bush who have never given a dime to prospective 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain received letters, dated Feb. 8, asking for donations to the senator's Straight Talk America political action committee. Obviously using President Bush's direct mail list, the letter signed by McCain asks for $1,000 or $1,500 to support candidates agreeing with McCain on ‘key issues.’ It specifically lists ‘limiting federal spending, immigration reform, military readiness, global climate change, Social Security reform, reining-in lobbyists, reducing the power of the special interests and putting an end to wasteful pork barrel spending by Congress.’”

Conservative Republicans who once viewed McCain with a jaundiced eye have suddenly become kinder and gentler towards the sometimes prickly senator. If in the future McCain shares his own and Bush’s mailing list with Rell, the governor, hot to stamp out corrupt campaign financing practices, need not worry that her own reelection effort will be underfinanced.

The notorious Abramoff scandal in Washington DC also has given a boost to McCain’s presidential stock. Not only is McCain viewed as a rough and ready Republican independent, the senator also is one of the authors and boosters of the McCain/Feingold bill, a piece of legislation that is supposed to put the kibosh on political corruption. Of course, every upside has its downside, and there are some ungagged First Amendment enthusiasts about who view the bill as a menace to free speech. Representative Chris Shays, known as “McCain Lite” in Connecticut, is one of the sponsors of the cognate bill in the House, Shays/Meehan.

In having McCain stump for her, Rell will fall into none of the ideological traps that have ensnared the hapless Sen. Joe Lieberman, now put in the doghouse by Democrats who tend their party’s progressive flame. Lieberman’s fraternization with President Bush on the Iraq war – and, even more so, the fatal kiss bestowed on Lieberman by a besieged president – have opened the door to a primary threat the turncoat senator certainly would have wished to avoid.

Unsurprisingly, the sharing of campaign contributors lists is not prohibited by legislation that has found favor with incumbent reformers like McCain, Feingold, Shays and Meehan – and for good reasons. The sharing of such resources is a practice frowned upon by good government types but frequently indulged in by professional politicians. The kinds of challengers whooping it up against Lieberman, moneyless agitators concerned with maintaining doctrinal purity, usually do not have access to such riches. And because such lists give a preternatural advantage to incumbents, the governing class is not likely to prohibit them when it writes campaign reform legislation.

Put it this way: If you were an incumbent politician fleeing a house set afire by campaign finance reform agitators, what would you save from the house first: a list of political contacts, a rolodex of friendly reporters, or your campaign finance contributors records? As a practiced politician, wise in the ways of world, would you rather stroke the keepers of the flame, Democrat or Republican Party purists who fear their parties are going to Hell in a hand basket, or keepers of the lists, powerful incumbent politicians like McCain, Feingold, Shays, Meehan or Rell who can provide you with cash flow?

No longer a neophyte in petty coats, Rell has grown up and attained her full potential: She has now become an honest to goodness, 24 karate gold plated professional politician, like John McCain.
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