McCain says FCC letter for contributor not improper

By Laurie Kellman, Associated Press, 01/05/00

BEDFORD, N.H. -- Sen. John McCain said today a letter he wrote to the Federal Communications Commission was not intended to sway a decision in favor of a major campaign benefactor.

McCain said he merely urged the agency to make a decision one way or the other. "The FCC is notoriously the worst bureaucracy in Washington with the most power," he said. "They don't act. They're classic bureaucrats."

Answering questions about a published report on the matter, he said all such actions by him now are "under this cloud" because of his outspoken criticism of the campaign finance system.

McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC. He urged the agency in a Dec. 10 letter to act quickly on a matter involving Paxson Communications, a company that owns 73 family-oriented TV stations and has legally provided a private jet for McCain's use and coordinated $20,000 in campaign contributions, The Boston Globe reported today.

Republican rival George W. Bush, asked about the issue today in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said McCain is an honest man and "I won't question his integrity in any way, shape or form. But he also said, "I think it's really important for people who are advocating reforms to live up to the spirit of reforms they are advocating."

The letter probably "tipped the decision" by the FCC clearing the way for Paxson to buy a Pittsburgh TV station, contended Angela J. Campbell, an attorney for opponents to the deal.

"Senator McCain said, 'Do it by Dec. 15 or explain why,' and the commission jumped to it and did it that very day," Campbell told the Globe. The Commerce Committee oversees the FCC and votes on nominations to the panel.

The McCain camp denied any link between the FCC letter -- in which the senator asked each of the five FCC commissioners to state their positions and act by Dec. 15 -- and the campaign contributions. FCC Chairman William Kennard, in a Dec. 14 reply to McCain, said it was "highly unusual" for the senator to write such a letter, which he said could have "procedural and substantive impacts" on the panel's actions.

McCain told reporters today that he simply wanted the FCC to act and did not suggest how it should decide the question.

"There will be other stories like this because whatever I did is under this cloud" because of his opposition to "soft money" campaign contributions, McCain said. "With increased traction you get increased visibility."

Speaking about actions he took in an unrelated matter involving two telephone companies, McCain told the Globe that "we're all tainted" by the campaign finance system and that donors do have access.

"They have access, and therefore they have influence. It corrupts the system. And I'm a victim of it, too," he said.

The campaign today released a copy of the letter to the FCC, which said: "The sole purpose of this request is to secure final action on a matter that has now been pending for two years. I emphasize that my purpose is not to suggest in any way how you should vote -- merely that you vote."

A McCain campaign statement said Paxson Communications makes its aircraft available to all 535 members of Congress. It also said 80 percent of U.S. business activity falls under Commerce Committee jurisdiction and "there is no evidence that John McCain has taken inappropriate action on behalf of a contributor."