John McCain has begun running a 30 second version of this ad in Ohio and 10 other states, in which he touts his role in “campaign reform.” This is, to my knowledge, his first televised ad to tout, even obliquely, his role in passing campaign finance reform during this presidential campaign. While “McCain-Feingold” did much to harvest good PR for Senator McCain and helped put him on the national political map in the 1990s and early part of this decade, the failure of the bill to “clean up politics,” the speech restrictions it put into place, and the organized opposition to excessive speech regulation that McCain-Feingold finally spurred, have made it much less popular today. There is little doubt that Senator McCain’s role in promoting and passing the McCain-Feingold bill, and defending its restrictions on political speech in court, hurt him in his quest for the GOP nomination (Fred Thompson’s campaign was also hurt by his role in passing the bill, which was sometimes referred to as “McCain-Feingold-Thompson” in those heady “reform” days of 2002). McCain overcame that hurdle on the basis of his many other strengths, and by downplaying the issue, to the point where it was scarcely mentioned in the primaries.
It is interesting to see Senator McCain now pick up the issue again, even in this small way, as he prepares for the general election. Obviously his campaign staff still thinks there is mileage to be earned with independents and conservative Democrats from the issue, or at least from claiming the mantle of “reform.” (The subject is listed among others – “military reform,” “spending reform,” – on which the ad claims for Senator McCain the mantle of “reform.”) But it is also interesting that the ad does not refer to it “campaign finance reform,” and makes no reference to “McCain-Feingold.”
It is no small marker for free speech that “campaign finance reform” is something no one really seems to want to campaign on anymore.