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McCain Blasts FEC Officials Over 527 Oversight

Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) angry call to stop posturing over the Vietnam War wasn’t his only outburst Wednesday. McCain, a leader of campaign-finance reform efforts, also unleashed a venomous attack on two members of the Federal Election Commission, calling for the agency’s Republican chairman, Brad Smith, to resign and accusing Democratic member Ellen Weintraub of not properly executing her duties.

Both commissioners have publicly expressed skepticism about their colleagues’ efforts to rein in the so-called 527 groups that are raising and spending millions of dollars to fund get-out-the-vote and other efforts intended to impact the 2004 elections.

In a floor speech Wednesday, McCain said he was back in Arizona recently watching C-SPAN in the “small hours of the morning” when he came across a rebroadcast of the FEC’s hearings on the 527 issue — a broadcast he called “both eye-opening and appalling.”

“The Chairman of the FEC, Bradley Smith, claims apparently some moral superiority on the issue of 527s because as a Republican, [that] he stands in opposition to the Republican party’s effort to ensure 527 groups comply with the law,” McCain complained. “While some may look upon his views as principled, I can only conclude that they again illustrate the same unfitness to serve on the FEC he has shown since he was appointed five years ago.”

Smith said he was “disappointed” and “regrets the tone of Senator McCain’s remarks, but that’s not new.”

“We will look very closely at the law. We’ll look closely at the factual record developed at our hearing and we will make a decision in accordance with the law,” Smith said. “Over half the Members of Congress who voted for BCRA submitted comments where they reached very different conclusion than Senator McCain about the effect of the law.”

McCain also lambasted Weintraub for expressing concern about contemplating any changes to terms like “expenditure” and “political committee,” arguing that such decisions could have “far-reaching implications” and sow “uncertainty during an election year.”

“Ms. Weintraub has no business looking at the election calendar,” McCain huffed. “What is her business is to enforce existing law. … It is an incredible statement as to how politics affect a federal commission that is supposed to rule on laws, not political campaigns.”

In an interview, Weintraub said that while she appreciates McCain’s “passion” on the topic, she emphasized the importance of weighing all factors.

“I never said that I was unwilling to enforce the law that is on the books in an election year, or in any other year,” she said. “I am completely prepared to enforce the law. What this rulemaking is all about is changing the rules.”

Weintraub said she stands by her previous remarks that “it would be unprecedented for the FEC to contemplate [such changes] during an election year.”

The FEC plans to meet May 13 in open session to deal with the 527 issue.

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