McCain, fund reform advocate, launches 3-day fund-raiser

By Tina Cassidy, Globe Staff, 1/18/2000

INGSTON, N.H. - Senator John McCain, whose presidential candidacy is grounded in campaign finance reform, kicks off a three-day fund-raising push in the Northeast today.

His first stop is in New York City, where he will attend three private events to raise much-needed cash heading into next month's South Carolina primary, where GOP rival George W. Bush has already spent nearly $1 million on TV advertising. McCain has spent about $700,000 there so far; he expects to raise about $25 million overall.

But the names of some of the fund-raising hosts are raising eyebrows, including Seagram chief executive Edgar Bronfman Jr., who is well-known in Democratic circles, and HBO president John Billock, whose company is partly regulated by the Senate Commerce Committee, which McCain chairs.

McCain defended Billock's fund-raiser, scheduled for Thursday at his Greenwich, Conn., home, by saying, ''Everything is under the Commerce Committee.''

And McCain, brushing off criticism that he is sounding too left-of-center on many issues for the Republican Party's liking, also defended Bronfman's fund-raising event for him.

''I've never had any dealings with him ... but he read my book [''Faith of My Fathers''] and was impressed,'' McCain said.

Pressed on whether Bronfman might want to curry favor with McCain because of his chairmanship, the Arizona senator said: ''I cannot account for their motivation.''

McCain said he has had some donors contribute $10 ''and think that gave them reason to visit me at my home. ... What matters is my reaction and my view of why they're doing it.''

The senator is scheduled to attend a fund-raiser at the Luncheon Club in New York City today before heading over to Bronfman's Manhattan home. Following that will be another fund-raiser, at the home of media executive Michael Bloomberg.

Tomorrow night the candidate will be in Boston for a fund-raiser at State Street Bank hosted by chairman and CEO Marshall Carter, Hale and Dorr partner Ernest Klein, and former Massachusetts GOP party chairman Jean Inman.

McCain has raised about $17 million so far - including $2 million he transferred from his Senate war chest but not counting $7 million in public matching funds.

The Bush campaign has accused McCain of ''double-dipping'' for asking Senate donors to contribute to his presidential war chest and for exceeding spending caps in New Hampshire.

McCain scoffed at both charges yesterday but stopped short of criticizing the Bush campaign for those suggestions.

As of the end of 1999, Bush had acknowledged spending $37 million already, a figure McCain will probably never reach. Bush has raised about $67 million.