Smith, behaving honorably toward someone who does not reciprocate civilities, today says McCain has an arguable case that, not having cashed any public checks, he should be released from his commitment and the spending ceiling. The FEC must decide, but it cannot act because it lacks a quorum.
Normally it has six members, three from each party. Three members -- two Democrats and one Republican -- were recess appointments whose terms have expired. Senate Republicans are prepared to confirm all three -- plus the confirmation of David Mason for a new term as chairman -- to six-year terms, but Barack Obama and three other Democrats are blocking confirmation of the Republican, Hans von Spakovsky.
Von Spakovsky is as skeptical as Smith is about the entanglement of politics in regulations for which McCain is primarily responsible. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, refusing to surrender the settled principle that each party chooses its FEC members, insists that all four be voted on as a package.
McCain, although rarely reticent about matters concerning campaign regulations, has said nothing in defense of von Spakovsky, the campaign against whom has been led by the Campaign Legal Center, whose chairman is Trevor Potter, general counsel of the McCain campaign.
In 2001, McCain, a situational ethicist regarding "big money" in politics, founded the Reform Institute to lobby for his agenda of campaign restrictions. It accepted large contributions, some of six figures, from corporations with business before the Commerce Committee (e.g., Echosphere, DISH Network, Cablevision Systems Corporation, a charity funded by the head of Univision). The Reform Institute's leadership included Potter and two others who are senior advisers in McCain's campaign, Rick Davis and Carla Eudy.
Although his campaign is run by lobbyists; and although his dealings with lobbyists have generated what he, when judging the behavior of others, calls corrupt appearances; and although he has profited from his manipulation of the taxpayer-funding system that is celebrated by reformers -- still, he probably is innocent of insincerity. Such is his towering moral vanity, he seems sincerely to consider it theoretically impossible for him to commit the offenses of appearances that he incessantly ascribes to others.
Such certitude is, however, not merely an unattractive trait. It is disturbing righteousness in someone grasping for presidential powers.