MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
John McCain's presidential campaign has never been a smooth, easy operation, and now it's navigating another rough patch. The Republican with the maverick reputation finds himself tied to the lobbying industry he once scorned and short on the campaign cash he used to denigrate. Senator McCain needs help from the Federal Election Commission. And though he needs assistance, he's also called the FEC despicable.
NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: John McCain has a long, well-documented history of contempt for the usual ways of Washington. But lately, he's been finding it's tough to get elected president without them. Just last week, McCain had to impose new campaign policy that's meant to protect him form the influence of Washington lobbyists. By one count, 115 registered lobbyists were raising money or working for the campaign, this despite McCain's proclamation less than a month ago.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): We need to close the door firmly on corporate lobbyists, my friends.
(Soundbite of applause)
OVERBY: With the new policy, the campaign won't accept registered lobbyists and registered foreign agents. Five of them are gone so far - most notably, Tom Loeffler, an old friend and key fundraiser for McCain. Loeffler lobbies for EADS North America, the European-based aircraft manufacturer currently fighting for an Air Force contract. Another client of his is Saudi Arabia. The McCain campaign declined to comment on this or any other element of this story. But lobbyists aren't McCain's only problem. Here he is in 2003, explaining the motives behind the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
Sen. McCAIN: Average Americans are not heard in the legislative process because of the overwhelming influence of special interests, which is fueled by incredible amounts of money that are injected into political campaigns.
OVERBY: But statements like that are coming back to haunt him. John Samples of the libertarian Cato Institute has followed McCain's career.
Mr. JOHN SAMPLES (Cato Institute): The senator's always run on corruption and built his brand name on being against special interests. But a lot of the people who are in the Republican Party, like anti-abortion groups, they understood very clearly that they were the special interest he was talking about.
OVERBY: So McCain is campaigning on a shoestring. His fundraising has picked up somewhat since he clinched the nomination this spring. But as recently as December, he was being outraced two to one by the biggest maverick in the race: Ron Paul.
Again, John Samples.
Mr. SAMPLES: A sort of long-term Republican activist asked me this morning as we are coming into work, you know, when is McCain's fundraising going to take off? And my answer was, well, it hasn't yet, and, you know, I think it may well not.
OVERBY: At least not compared to either Democratic candidate, especially not Barack Obama.
Professor DAVID ROHDE (Political Scientist, Duke University): My God, he's raised a quarter of a billion dollars already.
OVERBY: David Rohde, a political scientist at Duke University, says that compared to Obama, McCain has a weak base of small donors.
Prof. ROHDE: And therefore, he has to rely more on large donors, which means relying on exactly the same kind of Republican fundraising apparatus that he restricted through the campaign finance reform laws.
OVERBY: It also means McCain intends to take public financing for the fall campaign. He'll get $84 million or so, likely bolstered heavily by the Republican National Committee, but also likely a small percentage of what Obama or Hillary Clinton would bring in without public financing. And public financing presents McCain with yet another conflict. He's railed against the Federal Election Commission for years.
Here he is on CBS's "Face the Nation" in 2004.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Face the Nation")
Sen. McCAIN: We have a Federal Elections Commission which is disgraceful and despicable in its conduct.
OVERBY: All this year, the FEC has been out of commission due to a Senate deadlock over nominations, but the deadlock broke last weak. It's good news for McCain, because only the FEC can vote to release the federal money for his fall campaign. But its bad news, too. There's a complaint pending at the commission over whether McCain, the proponent of public funding, violated some public financing rules in the primaries. Now the commission can vote on taking up that issue, too.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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