Most national media yet to follow up on Project Vote Smart's reported vote to remove McCain from board for non-responsiveness

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI & KIRSTIN ELLISON

Most national media have yet to report on whether Sen. John McCain -- a member of the "Founding Board" of the nonpartisan voter education organization Project Vote Smart -- has been removed from the board for his failure to answer and return the group's Political Courage Test, which asks candidates about what policies they would support on a wide range of issues.

The national media have been largely silent on whether Sen. John McCain has been removed from the "Founding Board" of the nonpartisan voter education organization Project Vote Smart (PVS) for his failure to answer and return the group's Political Courage Test, which asks candidates about what policies they would support on a wide range of issues. On April 7, Mother Jones magazine staff writer Jonathan Stein reported that "PVS has a rule that prohibits any nonrespondents from serving on its board" and wrote: "[A]fter more than seven months with no response from McCain, the organization's executive committee voted in February to remove the senator from the board on April 9 unless he submits his answers to the survey or a fellow board member objects to his removal by that date." But since Mother Jones reported that McCain would be removed from the board if he had not submitted the survey by April 9, Media Matters for America identified only two other national media outlets that have covered the story-- National Public Radio (NPR) and The Washington Times. While McCain is currently listed on PVS' website as a "Founding Board" member, Mother Jones, NPR, and the Times all reported on April 10 that McCain has been removed from the board.

On McCain's "Political Courage Test" page, PVS displays this message: "Senator John Sidney McCain III repeatedly refused to provide any responses to citizens on the issues through the 2008 Political Courage Test when asked to do so by national leaders of the political parties, prominent members of the media, Project Vote Smart President Richard Kimball, and Project Vote Smart staff." During the April 10 edition of NPR's The Bryant Park Project, Kimball said of McCain's failure to complete the test: "[I]t really surprised us. We're not sure what happened. We contacted him many, many times, I did it a number of times myself, and he's always faithfully taken it over the years. This is the first time that he has refused to respond to it, and it's obviously a little embarrassing for the Project, but it's not unique, it's happened to us before." Kimball added that McCain "actually had helped us write letters and compel other candidates to provide this information nationally, so it was a little -- it was a little unusual."

Mother Jones reported on April 7 that "[a]ccording to call records provided by PVS, the organization first contacted McCain's presidential campaign regarding the test late last June. After the senator failed to return the survey, PVS staffers were told that due to tumult within the campaign -- money was running low and staff turnover was high -- the test had gotten lost in the shuffle. Since then, however, 16 more phone calls have been made to the campaign, the most recent in late February, and eight emails have been sent." A February 1 Washington Times article quoted McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers stating about the campaign's failure to return the survey: "I don't think it's intentional. We have been focused on the primaries and apparently there was a delay." The Times added that "Mike Wessler, media director for PVS, also told The Washington Times that the McCain team told him that the questionnaire likely slipped through the cracks because of major restructuring and personnel turnover in the campaign."

McCain has responded to the questionnaire in the past -- reportedly having completed the survey for each of his campaigns since the survey was created in 1992. McCain has also urged others to complete the survey. An August 2004 editorial in the Centre Daily Times of State College, Pennsylvania, stated that "[q]uestionnaires were sent to all candidates, along with letters from McCain, former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and others urging that the forms be completed and returned to Project Vote Smart." Project Vote Smart's website indicates that McCain asked nonrespondents to complete the questionnaire in 2006. An example:

[Tennessee state] Senator Douglas Henry [D] REPEATEDLY REFUSED TO PROVIDE ANY
RESPONSES TO CITIZENS ON ISSUES THROUGH THE 2006
NATIONAL POLITICAL AWARENESS TEST WHEN ASKED TO DO SO BY

Key national leaders of both major parties including:
John McCain, Republican Senator
Geraldine Ferraro, Former Democratic Congresswoman
Michael Dukakis, Former Democratic Governor
Bill Frenzel, Former Republican Congressman
Richard Kimball, Project Vote Smart President

Over 100 news organizations throughout the nation also urged their candidates to supply their issue positions through the National Political Awareness Test.

Mother Jones reported on April 10 that Project Vote Smart "confirm[ed] today that it has kicked John McCain off its board." In an April 10 post on his Washington Times blog, Stephen Dinan reported: "Sen. John McCain, a long-time board member of Project Vote Smart, was kicked off yesterday for failing to provide information about where he stands on key issues." And, on the April 10 edition of The Bryant Park Project, host Alison Stewart said during an interview with Kimball that McCain "was booted from the board for failing to complete the test."

Nevertheless, though some media outlets reported in the fall of 2007 that McCain had not completed the questionnaire, they have not followed up with PVS on McCain's status with the organization and the Founding Board.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, several national media outlets noted that Democratic presidential candidate and former Sen. Bill Bradley did not complete the organization's National Political Awareness Test questionnaire. Bradley previously served on PVS' board and, according to a January 2000 Associated Press article, resigned during the campaign, stating in a letter to the group: "I made an effort to resign from all the boards on which I sat. If you do not believe that that has happened with Project Vote Smart's current board, then please now consider this to be my resignation." The following national media outlets reported that Bradley did not complete the questionnaire: Associated Press (January 7 and 13, 2000); The Washington Post (January 17, 2000); The Washington Times (January 14, 2000); Los Angeles Times (March 6, 2000).

From the April 7 Mother Jones article, "Senator Straight Talk Won't Go on the Record with Project Vote Smart":

The Political Courage Test tries to pin down candidates to hard and fast answers about critical issues. Among other things, it asks them to state whether they aim to support funding increases or cuts, and to what degree, on a variety of spending issues, from defense to the arts to highway infrastructure. It is sent to state and federal candidates every time they run for office. The point of the exercise is to push candidates to be as detailed in their answers as possible-a prospect that may be unnerving to many politicians who like to preserve wiggle room for future political maneuvering.

According to Kimball, PVS has a rule that prohibits any nonrespondents from serving on its board. And, after more than seven months with no response from McCain, the organization's executive committee voted in February to remove the senator from the board on April 9 unless he submits his answers to the survey or a fellow board member objects to his removal by that date. "Assuming that John McCain doesn't change his mind or there's not some objection from board members, which hasn't happened, effectively on April 9 he will not be a member of our board," says Kimball.

Kimball has known McCain since he ran against him in 1986. "It wasn't a very pleasant race for either us," he says. "But we became friends after that. He was always a big supporter of the Project. It's personally very disappointing to me. I was surprised that he didn't do it."

From the April 10 edition of National Public Radio's The Bryant Park Project:

STEWART: So far, all three presidential candidates have declined to take the test and were rated with F's because the deadline passed a little while ago. But of the three candidates, one of them actually sits on the board of Project Vote Smart: Republican Senator John McCain. At least he did until yesterday.

That's right -- Senator McCain was booted from the board for failing to complete the test. Joining us now to discuss the Political Courage Test in general, and Senator McCain's situation in particular, is Richard Kimball, president of Project Vote Smart. Hi, Richard. Thanks for being with us here on the BPP.

KIMBALL: Hi. Thank you for having us on.

[...]

STEWART: Well, let's talk about Senator McCain, because his situation is a little different because, as we said, he was on the board of Project Vote Smart. For the record, The Bryant Park Project from NPR News did contact Senator McCain's office. We did not hear back from him about this issue. Has he taken the position -- has he taken the test before?

KIMBALL: Yes, he's always -- it really surprised us. We're not sure what happened. We contacted him many, many times -- I did it a number of times myself -- and he's always faithfully taken it over the years. This is the first time that he has refused to respond to it, and it's obviously a little embarrassing for the Project, but it's not unique, it's happened to us before.

We had the same problem with Bill Bradley, who was on the board trying to build this -- what we call "voter-self-defense system" with us in 2000 and it -- so it's not unique, but it's unusual and it surprised us. It was very disappointing.

STEWART: I can imagine it surprised you, because you know Mr. McCain personally, Senator McCain personally. You ran against him for Senate back in 1986.

KIMBALL: Yeah, that was Barry Goldwater's seat. He was retiring and I was the Democratic nominee, and we had a pretty tough campaign, but we had become friends over the years and I was a little -- I was pretty surprised. He actually had helped us write letters and compel other candidates to provide this information nationally, so it was a little -- it was a little unusual.

STEWART: We're speaking with Richard Kimball, president of Project Vote Smart. How aggressive has Project Vote Smart been about pursuing the candidates about this particular test?

KIMBALL: We contact the candidates at least a minimum of six times. Major leaders of their own parties write the candidates trying to ask them to do the right thing and provide this information to citizens. There's over 200 major news organizations all over the country that have helped us, including some NPR stations around the country, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Dallas Morning News. All over the country they editorialize: "Will you not do the right and honorable thing and provide this to citizens?" It's a huge, massive effort that is duplicated every two years, but again, exclusively for the purpose of measuring a candidate's willingness to provide this and see if the democracy, in a sense, is deteriorating. People are becoming less and less able to get straight answers from candidates.

STEWART: Are you concerned about becoming irrelevant if people aren't going to be willing to engage in this with your project?

KIMBALL: Oh no, it's actually a minor part of our operation. We collect every single vote that they make, every single public utterance in keyword searchable databases, every bit of their campaign finances, all the evaluations done on them, all of the biographical details. We have huge teams of people that track every single one of these candidates in a database of people.

It allows the citizen not to have to listen to this self-serving hype anymore. They can just type in their zip code and all the candidates that are running for office from their area from president on down appear. They can instantly see how they voted on key issues. If they want to type in the word "immigration," they can see anything they ever uttered about that subject.

From the August 1, 2004, Centre Daily Times editorial (accessed via the Nexis database), "Working to get potential voters interested, active":

Project Vote Smart is soliciting information from candidates in this fall's races, including those in local legislative campaigns and the race for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.

The effort is partially funded by the Knight Foundation and is striving for participation from everyone who will appear on ballots this year.

The Centre Daily Times is a partner newspaper in the project.

Questionnaires were sent to all candidates, along with letters from McCain, former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and others urging that the forms be completed and returned to Project Vote Smart, which will make the results available on the Web site.

Congressional candidates are being asked to rank their priorities for federal funding from among a list that includes agriculture, the arts, defense, education, the environment, homeland security, national parks, public health and transportation.

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
Associated Press, NPR
Show/Publication
Mother Jones Magazine
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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