Senator John McCain raised a paltry, humiliating $13 million during the first quarter of this year—placing him far behind Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani in the race to buy the presidency. So what’s a campaign-finance-reformer to do? Flip-flop. McCain is now counting on intensified support from big contributors to George W. Bush’s two presidential campaigns, many of whom he railed against during his heady period as a campaign finance reformer in years gone by.
Sixty former Bush Rangers or Pioneers raised money for McCain during the first quarter (versus about thirty each for Romney and Giuliani), and last month he appointed one of them, Tom Loeffler, to take over his fundraising operation.
Loeffler is a former member of Congress from Texas who retired in 1986. According to a 1984 study by Public Citizen, he compiled the worst record of any member on consumer issues, and also made news as the top recipient of illegal contributions from Vernon Savings & Loan, which went belly-up at a cost to taxpayers of $1.3 billion. But Loeffler’s finest moment during his years on the Hill came during a mid-1980s trip to San Francisco, when he reportedly called the front desk at his hotel and asked to have extra shower caps brought up to wear on his feet, in order to protect against the AIDS virus.
After retiring, Loeffler became a lobbyist and soon was embroiled in several scandals that marked Bush’s Texas gubernatorial tenure. One came after Bush appointed him to the University of Texas System Board of Regents, where he give the startup firm Introgen Therapeutics the exclusive right to license a gene cancer therapy that had been developed at the university. Several years later, the drug firm named Loeffler to its board and gave him 10,000 shares of stock. Introgen is a current lobbying client for The Loeffler Group, as is Toyota, Qualcomm, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Saudi Arabia. Overall, the firm took in $4.6 million in lobbying fees last year.
Loeffler should be of great help to McCain in drumming up campaign money. He’s previously held top fundraising posts for presidential campaigns mounted by former Texas senator Phil Gramm and Bob Dole, and in 2004 was co-chairman of the Republican National Committee’s Team 100 as well as a Bush Super-Ranger, a title given to those who raised more than $300,000.
A recent Houston Chronicle story says Loeffler has decided to use the Bush money model for McCain, “setting dollar targets for the bundlers and creating a McCain 100 and McCain 200 team for those who raised $100,000 and $200,00, respectively.” Other big Bush donors now in McCain’s camp include James B. Lee, Jr., vice chairman of JP Morgan Chase; Donald Bren, chairman of the board of directors of The Irvine Company and the 104th richest person in the world according to Forbes; and A. Jerrold Perenchio, the controlling shareholder of Univision Communications. The latter is a major donor to tax-exempt 527 groups that flourish because they exploit loopholes in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. In 2005,
according to the Washington Post, McCain “went to court to try to curtail the influence of a group to which [Perenchio] gave $9 million, saying it was trying to ‘evade and violate’ new campaign laws with voter ads ahead of the midterm elections.”
Things change. “Over the years, I have become close friends with each of these distinguished men,” McCain said last December when announcing that Loeffler, Lee, and so on would become major fundraisers for his campaign. “I am honored to have their support as we move forward. Their dedication to the Republican Party and their renowned financial savvy are essential to any successful campaign, and I am so grateful that they have chosen to bring their talents and wisdom to our team.”
It definitely seems that McCain has inherited the Bush donor machine–but his continued support for Bush’s unpopular failure in Iraq will complicate his effort to win the presidency no matter how much money he raises.