Reporting McCain's "divergent views" from House Republicans, NY Times ignored his flip-flop on immigration, possible campaign spending illegalities

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

The New York Times' Carl Hulse reported that congressional Republicans "worry just what a President McCain would portend for them come January, given their divergent views on big-ticket items like immigration, climate change and campaign spending." But Hulse did not note that McCain has moved to the right on immigration to align himself more closely with his party's base, nor did he mention that McCain may be violating campaign finance laws by surpassing spending limits under the public financing system for the primary period.

In an April 30 New York Times article, staff writer Carl Hulse reported that House Republicans "embrace the candidate [Sen. John] McCain as a potential savior whose maverick reputation could rescue them in an off-year for the party brand. But they worry just what a President McCain would portend for them come January, given their divergent views on big-ticket items like immigration, climate change and campaign spending, to name just three." But in asserting that McCain holds "divergent views" from those of most Republicans, Hulse ignored the Times own previous reporting that McCain has moved to the right on immigration and now "speaks almost exclusively about border security." In fact, his current position -- that the borders must be secured before other reforms can be addressed -- is a reversal of his previous position that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform. Further, in citing McCain's "views" on "big-ticket items" like "campaign spending," Hulse did not note that McCain may be violating campaign finance laws by surpassing spending limits under the public financing system for the primary period, or that his campaign took out a loan that could have required him to remain in the race -- regardless of whether his candidacy was viable -- in order to receive matching funds to pay back the loan. Nor did Hulse note the Times previous reporting that McCain took advantage of a loophole in federal election law by using a plane owned by his wife for campaign purposes.

While Hulse reported that McCain and House Republicans have "divergent views" on immigration, in a March 3 Times article, staff writer Elisabeth Bumiller reported that McCain has "moved from his original position on immigration." Bumiller noted that "[a]fter seeing his campaign and his fund-raising efforts derail last summer -- which his advisers attributed in large part to his position on immigration -- Mr. McCain now says that he got the message from voters," and that he now "speaks almost exclusively about border security." She also reported that "McCain went so far at a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in January to say that if his original [immigration] proposal came to a vote on the Senate floor, he would not vote for it." Bumiller also wrote: "To the degree that he is shifting to the right, he is shoring up his standing among conservatives."

In reporting that McCain and House Republicans have "divergent views" on "big-ticket items" like "campaign spending," Hulse did not note that Federal Election Commission chairman David Mason has taken the position that McCain cannot opt out of public financing in the primary without FEC approval, as McCain has attempted to do, meaning that every day that McCain spends beyond the limits of the public financing system -- which he has already exceeded -- he could be breaking federal law.

The Associated Press reported on February 21: "The government's top campaign finance regulator says John McCain can't drop out of the primary election's public financing system until he answers questions about a loan he obtained to kickstart his once faltering presidential campaign. Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason, in a letter to McCain this week, said the all-but-certain Republican nominee needs to assure the commission that he did not use the promise of public money to help secure a $4 million line of credit he obtained in November." The loan could have required McCain to remain in the race, regardless of whether his candidacy was viable, in order to receive matching funds to pay back the loan. A March 23 Washington Post article reported that "McCain has officially broken the limits imposed by the presidential public financing system," and a February 22 article in the Post noted that "[k]nowingly violating the spending limit is a criminal offense that could put McCain at risk of stiff fines and up to five years in prison." Under the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account Act, violators could face fines up to $25,000 and up to five years of jail time.

Further, in an April 27 Times article, staff writers Barry Meier and Margot Williams reported that "over a seven-month period beginning last summer, Mr. McCain's cash-short campaign gave itself an advantage by using a corporate jet owned by a company headed by his wife, Cindy McCain, according to public records." The article further reported that while current law "requires campaigns to pay charter rates when using such jets rather than cheaper first-class fares":

Mr. McCain's campaign paid a total of $241,149 for the use of that plane from last August through February, records show. That amount is approximately the cost of chartering a similar jet for a month or two, according to industry estimates.

The senator was able to fly so inexpensively because the law specifically exempts aircraft owned by a candidate or his family or by a privately held company they control. The Federal Election Commission adopted rules in December to close the loophole -- rules that would have required substantial payments by candidates using family-owned planes -- but the agency soon lost the requisite number of commissioners needed to complete the rule making.

Because that exemption remains, Mr. McCain's campaign was able to use his wife's corporate plane like a charter jet while paying first-class rates, several campaign finance experts said. Several of those experts, however, added that his campaign's actions, while keeping with the letter of law, did not reflect its spirit.

As Media Matters for America documented, earlier this year, several members of the media asserted that McCain had flown coach on commercial airliners when the campaign was low on funds, without addressing the fact that FEC filings available when they were making this assertion (and, indeed, were first available October 15, 2007) showed that the McCain campaign had paid his wife's holding company, King Aviation, more than $29,000 for travel between July 1, 2007, and September 30, 2007, and more than $139,000 between October 1, 2007, and December 1, 2007.

From Hulse's April 30 New York Times article:

Senator John McCain's recent harsh critique of the Republican-led response to Hurricane Katrina no doubt reminded some of his newfound allies in Congress that his independent image was often honed at his party's expense.

Mr. McCain, the go-his-own-way Arizona lawmaker, has had an up-and-down relationship with Republican colleagues for years, particularly those in the House. He feuded openly with the former Republican leaders, whom he often treated with disdain and suspicion -- a sentiment they often returned.

That checkered past has stirred mixed emotions among House Republicans, who embrace the candidate McCain as a potential savior whose maverick reputation could rescue them in an off-year for the party brand.

But they worry just what a President McCain would portend for them come January, given their divergent views on big-ticket items like immigration, climate change and campaign spending, to name just three. They would prefer not to be thrown under the Straight Talk Express on Pennsylvania Avenue.

"For the pure, die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool Republican, they probably have a little bit of heartburn," said Representative Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican and McCain supporter retiring from the House at the end of this year.

Posted In
Elections, Immigration
Network/Outlet
The New York Times
Person
Carl Hulse
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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