Washington Babylon — April 14, 2008, 7:23 am

How McCain Promotes “Reform” Through Non-Profit Institute

As noted here last week, Senator John McCain’s ties to the supposedly independent Reform Institute have recently attracted well-deserved media scrutiny. In 2001, McCain helped found the Institute, a non-profit group whose stated mission is to advance political transparency. But the group’s real goal has often seemed to be the advancement of John McCain.

I have an article in the May issue of the magazine that takes a close look at the links between the Institute and McCain. For example, the Reform Institute over three years paid $395,000 in salary and consulting fees to Rick Davis, the telecommunications lobbyist and McCain’s campaign chairman in both 2000 and 2008. For several years the Institute operated out of the offices of Davis, Manafort–where Rick Davis is a name partner–and paid the lobby shop as much as $10,000 per month for rent.

Indeed, quite a few of the senator’s staffers and key allies have held positions at the Reform Institute. These include Rebecca Donatelli, a long-time consultant to McCain (and the wife of one of his close advisors), who is a former Institute board member; Crystal Benton, a spokeswoman for McCain ’08 who previously handled media relations for the Institute; and Ken Nahigian, former counsel to McCain at the Senate Commerce Committee who currently directs the Reform Institute’s Center for Energy and Environmental Progress. Nahigian’s firm helps plot media strategy for McCain’s presidential campaign.

Similarly, a number of big donors to McCain’s political campaigns have generously underwritten the Reform Institute’s operations as well. For example, the Institute’s website identifies William Bloomfield, a California real estate magnate, as a major funder. According to figures compiled by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Bloomfield and family members have donated nearly $60,000 to McCain’s presidential campaign and his Straight Talk America Political Action Committee.

Other Reform Institute funders include Ecosphere, the satellite TV company owned by Charles Ergen, a friend of McCain’s whose company has been periodically boosted by the senator’s congressional actions; and the Manafort Family Foundation, which is controlled by the family of Paul Manafort, Rick Davis’s business partner. Paul Manafort himself is a contributor to both McCain ’08 and Straight Talk America. (Manafort, incidentally, has long been considered one of the most ethically challenged lobbyists in Washington. He has worked in the past for dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, and his more recent clients have included a number of highly dubious Eastern European political and business interests.)

The Reform Institute has frequently championed the same issues as Senator McCain, and in doing so has promoted his political profile and agenda as well. During its early years of operations the Institute focused on campaign finance reform, and prominently featured McCain at its press conferences and in its news releases. Between 2003 and 2004, the Institute paid McCain’s travel expenses (of over $2,000) to appear at three of its events, including a New York City luncheon to commemorate the Supreme Court’s upholding of the McCain-Feingold Act. According to a well-placed source with whom I spoke, Rick Davis made key decisions about how and where the Institute would promote campaign finance reform. He frequently chose to get involved in politically strategic swing states like West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

In its 2005 non-profit tax filing, the Reform Institute broadened its agenda to include issues such as “climate stewardship.” Coincidentally, no doubt, McCain and Senator Joe Lieberman have been co-sponsors of a bill called the Climate Stewardship Act. (Environmental Defense, another contributor to the Reform Institute, was a major backer of the legislation. Earlier this year, McCain returned the favor by providing a letter for one of the group’s direct mail pitches.)

(These are just some of the details left out of the magazine story, which explains the overlapping interests of the Reform Institute and John McCain Inc.)

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2015

In the Shadow of the Storm

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Measure for Measure

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Israel

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Camera on Every Cop

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“The campaign music stopped. Hundreds of people, their faces now warped by the dread of a third bomb, began running for cover.”
Photograph © Guy Martin/Panos.
Article
Part Neither, Part Both·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Eight months pregnant I told an old woman sitting beside me on the bus that the egg that hatched my baby came from my wife’s ovaries. I didn’t know how the old woman would take it; one can never know. She was delighted: That’s like a fairy tale!”
Mother with Children, by Gustav Klimt © akg-images
Article
What Recovery?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Between 2007 and 2010, Albany’s poverty rate jumped 12 points, to a record high of 39.9 percent. More than two thirds of Albany’s 76,000 residents are black, and since 2010, their poverty rate has climbed even higher, to nearly 42 percent.”
Photograph by Will Steacy
Article
Rag Time·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

From a May 23 commencement address delivered at Hofstra University. Doctorow died on Tuesday. He was 84.
“We are a deeply divided nation in danger of undergoing a profound change for the worse.”
Photograph by Giuseppe Giglia
Article
The Trouble with Israel·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“We think we are the only people in the world who live with threat, but we have to work with regional leaders who will work with us. Bibi is taking the country into unprecedented international isolation.”
Photograph by Adam Golfer

Chance that a U.S. criminologist thinks abolishing the death penalty would increase the murder rate:

1 in 10

Villagers in Bangladesh found a missing woman halfway down a python’s throat.

The FAA announced it would investigate an 18-year-old Connecticut man who posted a YouTube video showing a homemade drone firing a handgun.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today