WASHINGTON - Political karma, that fickle dame, waltzed into John McCain’s childhood home and smacked him in the face the other day.
For what was once the McCain family home a block from the U.S. Capitol - a looming mass of white brick where his sister got married and his parents entertained government officials - long ago became the Capitol Hill Club, a favored haunt of the politicians and lobbyists who form the nexus of power and money that the Arizona Republican senator has tried to break for years.
The club, a Republican redoubt _ the Democrats’ is a few blocks away - has a bar, a restaurant and a warren of rooms that host dozens of fundraisers weekly for lawmakers. Tuesday alone there were 15, all listed on a board in the lobby.
Including one for John McCain, the famous campaign-finance reformer, who came with his hand out. McCain entered his old house - his mother and sister by his side - in the final sprint of the presidential campaign’s second fundraising quarter. He’s hoping to ensure that the Beltway’s chattering class deems his tally sufficient after a disappointing first quarter, insisting meanwhile that either way, “we’ll have enough money to compete.”
Where did he turn Tuesday for that money? To the peculiar Washington breed whose outsized influence McCain had hoped to curb with his campaign-finance overhaul: lobbyists, helpfully lured to the club by the event’s 26 congressional co-hosts, many of whom attended.
“It shows that if you live long enough anything can happen,” McCain said.
Here lobbyists trooped, well-scrubbed and prosperous, arriving by Town Car and taxi, some strolling from the Capitol, about 200 donors in all, writing checks for $1,000 or $2,500 - more, please, if you can spare it - for the pleasure of finger food, drinks and some time with McCain in the first-floor Eisenhower Room, which, McCain recalled, was the kitchen when he was a kid.
The evening fundraiser, where McCain spent about an hour and a half, was one of five scheduled that day for his campaign.
If it all gave him heartburn, it didn’t dim his outward enthusiasm. He claimed that he was “very happy with the way things are going” and insisted that his money was cleaner than any of his opponents’. “You’ll find we have less special-interest money than anybody,” McCain said. “A lot of these people also were employees of mine at one time. And their friends. I’ll bet you a quarter of these people who’ve come once worked on my staff or worked for (Mississippi Sen. Trent) Lott or have a personal relationship.”
And the other three-quarters?
“Jerks!” McCain joked.
Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., who co-hosted the event and supported McCain’s campaign-finance efforts, said, “Fundraising is always difficult. Everything he’s doing is within the confines of the law, which he helped write. It’s not as if he’s fought for one thing and is doing something in violation of it. You can’t expect him not to raise money just because he’s interested in campaign-finance reform.”
Speaking of campaign financing, karma kicked in another twist this week: The Supreme Court voted to loosen some of the restrictions on campaign spending that the McCain-Feingold law had imposed. Experts predict that that will increase such spending dramatically in 2008.
Meaning a lot more fundraisers reaching into the deep pockets of those who eat, drink and spend at the old McCain family home.