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Weaver Always Spent Big on McCain's Behalf

It should come as no surprise to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that his top political adviser was a spendthrift -- in the first half of 2001 he rang up $18,000 in hotel bills.

The adviser, John Weaver, resigned Tuesday along with campaign manager Terry Nelson from the McCain presidential campaign, amid reports that McCain was furious that the campaign had burned through about $22 million, leaving it with just $2 million on hand.

But Weaver has never been shy about spending McCain's political money. In the spring of 2000, after McCain's 2000 primary loss to President Bush, Weaver launched a lavish political operation for the Arizonan known as Straight Talk America. That's the political action committee that Weaver would lead for the next 6 ½ years as a $15,000-a-month consultant.

Unlike campaign committees, which are used solely for elections, PACs are used by federal lawmakers to raise money and distribute it to other politicians and party organizations -- currying favor in order to advance in internal leadership positions on Capitol Hill or to further their presidential ambitions.

While at my alma mater, Roll Call, I wrote a pair of stories (July 2000, August 2001) that looked at how Weaver was running McCain's political operation. By comparison to other lawmakers, who liked to shell out large sums of money as political contributions to other candidates, Weaver ran Straight Talk America like a permanent presidential campaign.

He admitted in an August 2001 interview that he envisioned the PAC as an alternate way to promote McCain and his agenda. "It's a permanent campaign to promote John McCain's agenda," Weaver told me, distinguishing Straight Talk America from other PACs that are "only in existence to promote the lawmaker" and not issues. "That's what is rare around here."

In its first 15 months of operation, Straight Talk America took in $3.2 million, but what was truly rare was its outgoing revenue. By mid-2000, in its first three-plus months of existence, Straight Talk spent more money on telephones ($15,588) than on contributions to fellow Republicans ($11,000).

Other findings by mid-2001 included:
• $18,347 paid for lodging costs in the first half of 2001 at the Hotel George on Capitol Hill, mostly for Weaver, whose primary home at the time was in New Hampshire and who frequently traveled to the nation's capital. In all, the PAC spent $46,728 on lodging at 11 different hotels around the country in its first year of existence, although about $11,000 of that appeared to be old debt from the McCain camp's hotel bill from the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.
• Weaver collected $11,606 in additional travel reimbursements from Straight Talk.
• McCain's PAC paid $7,274 to Buse Printing, a Phoenix shop run by the family of Mark Buse, who was staff director at the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. McCain chaired the committee at the time.
• In 2000, the PAC rented a $3,500-a-month townhouse for its operations. (By early 2001 Straight Talk moved into the offices of chief fundraiser Carla Eudy, who would remain a close McCain confidant until she was ousted after the candidate's lackluster 1st quarter fund-raising report earlier this year.)

In the 2004 election cycle, the PAC shuttered its operations as McCain was up for re-election in Arizona and felt it inappropriate to raise funds for two committees at the same time. By July 2005, Straight Talk re-opened and again became a dominant force -- both in terms of dollars raised and dollars spent.

In one night, when McCain was emerging as a leading GOP presidential candidate, a re-launching event in New York City took in $1 million for the PAC. From July 2005 through Dec. 31, 2006, Straight Talk America reeled in nearly $8 million. But the PAC blew through $7.9 million in the same period.

In contrast with its first iteration, when Straight Talk was not among top givers from other member-connected PACs, in 2005-2006 it shelled out almost $700,000 to other federal candidates and party committees, becoming very effective at promoting McCain's influence and interests.

But success came with a cost. In addition to Weaver's $15,000 a month, Straight Talk was dishing out $5,000 a month or more to 10 consultants, including fundraisers in Georgia and Texas, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Those were heady days, but perhaps, more than anything, they were also a harbinger of the financial troubles ahead for a presidential campaign that assumed it would raise $100 million -- only to find itself on pace to raise nowhere near half of that total.

The last report on file for Straight Talk, running through May 31, showed the PAC with just $7,884 on hand. And it held debts of $10,526.

The man replacing Weaver and Nelson atop the campaign, Rick Davis, should also be well aware of Weaver's spending habits. In the early days of Straight Talk, Davis was also paid as a consultant by the PAC. When Straight Talk reopened in 2005, it spent most of its early days inside of Davis's lobbying firm in the Old Town section of Alexandria, Va.

By Paul Kane  |  July 10, 2007; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign  
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Very informative and fascinating. And it's all ironic--considering the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation. I don't know the specifics, but I recall reading that the legislation is somewhat obsolete, as politicians have found loopholes. And along those lines, $22 million isn't chump change. That could feed and educate a lot of people. I'm a big fan of "Seinfeld," though Michael Richards isn't my favorite person in the world right now. Still, there was that episode in which Kramer noted, "It's all corporations now!" Presidential candidates from the party of "the people" have had to raise tens of millions of dollars in one GD quarter, and half a year before the primaries start--just to compete with multi-millionaire Republican fat cats. Er, what's wrong with this picture?

Posted by: Dr. Don Key | July 10, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

How unfortunate for McCain and I think, for us.

Posted by: Mark in Austin | July 10, 2007 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Key refers in a derogatory fashion to "fat cat" Republican candidates. How can anyone who reads a newspaper be unaware of the abundance of "multi-millionaire" politicians in the Democratic party? Clinton, Kennedy, etc..

It is simple fact that most members of Congress, from any party, are wealthy. And frankly, I don't have a problem with people who proved their own talents in business before taking on the job of running the world's largest organization, the US Government.

Posted by: Rick O. | July 10, 2007 5:22 PM | Report abuse

It's not the money it's the candidate.

McCain lost backbone to Bush and the middle knows it. The right will probably get behind another fake like Bush. No amount of money or spin can gain back a lost reputation.

Posted by: hhkeller | July 10, 2007 5:24 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't appear McCain will be very good at managing the bloated federal budget if he can't even control his campaign costs. Time for him to bow out!

Posted by: fjdc | July 10, 2007 5:54 PM | Report abuse

This is actually a good sign. His campaign machine spent money like they were printing it! We don't need that type of fiscal mis-management....They blew through $20,000,000!!! See you in the nursing home, John!

Posted by: Olga R. | July 10, 2007 8:16 PM | Report abuse

I am not a McCain supporter but I am a regular business traveler. Anyone who travels for business on a regular basis will likely echo the sentiment that the lodging, expense reimbursements, rent, etc. are by no means extraordinary. I humbly suggest that you try spending 5 days a week on the road, Mr. Kane, for several months at a time and then rewrite your article. McCain's fiscal issues are much broader than his key advisor's room service charges.

Posted by: EG | July 10, 2007 9:47 PM | Report abuse

He also was charged by the campaign manager on Phil Gramms bid of overspending on mail pieces to his benefit (He has a mail firm). The same accusation was made in 2000.

He also divorced his wife when she was diagnosed with MS

Posted by: maverick | July 11, 2007 11:14 AM | Report abuse

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