Fred Thompson Defends McCain-Feingold; Mitt Put's 'em to Sleep

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Fred Defends McCain-Feingold:  Fred Thompson finally made clear his position on the statist campaign finance restrictions embodied in the McCain-Feingold bill.  And conservatives are clearly not going to be pleased.
When the former star of TV’s “Law and Order” series and newly-minted presidential candidate spoke to reporters on the porch of the Grand Hotel here, I asked Thompson whether he was proud of his role in enacting the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation in ’01. 
“Yes,” replied the former Tennessee senator without hesitation.  “You will recall that the central part of the legislation was getting rid of soft money [from the political process].”   He then went on to remind me that he came from a background in the private sector and, in that sector, it would have been thought unseemly  for “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to be poured in to influence someone’s decision.  In the public arena, “it got to be the norm” because of the soft money, upon which there were no limits for donations to the two major political parties.”  The contributors, he said, would then, “harass legislators before they vote on anything.  This was not a good idea.”
Thompson went on to remind me that it was his amendment to McCain-Feingold that, “raised the hard money index” and he was also proud of that.
If there is anything in McCain-Feingold that “has not worked out,” he went to say, it is “placing limitations on ads [by independent groups] in the [political] process.  Thompson  hinted that he would support legislation to change this, since “the Supreme Court has better things to do with its time than hear cases on unfair limitation.”  (Earlier this year, by a decision of 5-to-4, the Supreme Court struck down parts of McCain-Feingold that dealt with limiting ads by independent groups.) He also said that the landmark campaign finance legislation he held shepherd to passage (and which President Bush signed in ’01) has created a larger bureaucracy to enforce regulations and “that part hasn’t worked out.”
When he began considering a White House bid earlier this year, the 65-year-old Thompson stunned longtime friends when, in an interview published in The American Spectator, he was quoted as suggesting he might have erred in backing campaign finance restrictions, that the law could now lift the limits on campaign contributions and have instant reporting, a position most conservatives support on campaign finance.  More recently, Thompson, defended McCain-Feingold passionately in interviews with syndicated columnist George Will and radio talk show host Laura Ingrahm. 
Now Fred Thompson has made his position clear–and did so with passion.  In a few hours, the Tennessean will join John McCain (whom he supported in 2000) as one of the main dinner speakers at the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference here.

Mitt a Bit of a Bore? “I fell asleep during Mitt Romney‘s speech today, and I wasn’t even up late last night.”
So said Lansing, Michigan attorney Richard McLellan, who has known the presidential hopeful since his father George was governor of Michigan from 1962-69.  McLellan made his comments to me at the Grand Hotel here, shortly after Mitt Romney’s luncheon address to the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference.  Long one of the top “insiders” in Lansing when Republicans hold the governorship, McLellan was also singled out along with Mitt Romney’s attorney-brother Scott as one of the most durable attendees of the Mackinac conference (both have been coming since 1963).
McLellan explained that Romney’s address–in which the former Massachusetts governor spoke of Republicans renewing their commitments to tax cuts and fiscal responsibility–“lacked emotion.”  He contrasted Romney’s remarks to those of rival Rudy Giuliani at the dinner last night and to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who gave a rousing address to an overflow crowd this morning.  
McLellan went on to disagree with Mitt Romney’s campaign that he will be helped in the primary here next January by being the son of George Romney.  In McLellan’s words, “Maybe it will help but very little.  George was governor forty years ago and [wife] Lenore ran for the Senate [unsucessfully] thirty-seven years ago.  Although I knew and admired both of them, few remember them.”  He went on to note that in a primary where candidates move increasingly to the right to win, the elder Romney was remembered as a “liberal Republican.”
McLellan’s reviews of Romney’s speech were echoed by fellow Lansing lawyer Kimbal Smith, a former deputy state treasurer.  Smith told me “There might have been some passion, but Mitt certainly wasn’t in the same league as Newt Gingrich.”
Such less-than-flattering comments about Romney’s performance come as one just-released poll shows him trailing Giuliani and another shows Romney barely clinging to his lead in the state in which he was born and raised.  An MRG poll released yesterday showed Giuliani leading among likely Republican voters with 27%, Romney and Fred Thompson tied at 13%, John McCain 7% and Mike Huckabee 6%.  Another poll just-completed by veteran Lansing pollster Steve Mitchell showed Romney 21%, Giuliani 19%, Thompson 18%, McCain 10%, and Huckabee 3%.


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