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McCain and The Nonprofit

POSTED: 03:00 PM ET, 06/ 2/2008 by Derek Kravitz

The relationship between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, and the nonprofit Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) was examined in a Saturday Post article.

What's the problem with a candidate aligning himself with a nonprofit?

As The Post's Robert O'Harrow reports, CAGW and other nonprofits, or 501(c)3s, are not supposed to engage in political activity. They are allowed, however, to set up a separate political arm -- known as a 501(c)4 -- that may donate money to candidates and lobby on policy issues as long as political activity is not its primary purpose.

"The question is: What is lobbying and what is campaign intervention?" said Frances R. Hill, a University of Miami law professor who specializes in charitable organizations.

CAGW's willingness to defend the Air Force's February decision to award a $40 billion contract for refueling tankers to Northrop Grumman and its European partner, a deal supported by McCain that had brought him a firestorm of criticism, illustrates what some experts describe as "potentially improper political activity by nonprofits." The issue that is gaining attention as the presidential contest heats up.

The group and its lobbying arm have long had a close relationship with McCain.

Among other things:

-- One of the members of the non-profit's board of directors is Orson Swindle, the McCain campaign's veterans liaison and a friend of McCain who shared a cell with him as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

-- CAGW's lobbying arm has twice endorsed McCain for president and donated nearly all of its campaign cash to McCain since 2004.

-- CAGW has called McCain a "Taxpayer Hero," a phrase that shows up in McCain's promotional literature.

CAGW has been in the spotlight before for its relationship with political supporters. The St. Petersburg Times reported two years ago that the tobacco industry worked with the nonprofit in the late 1980s.

"Both sides profited from the relationship.CAGW got at least $245,000 from the tobacco industry, while the companies got a fresh and supposedly independent voice to oppose government regulation of their product," The Times reported.

The Post has been complementary of the work CAGW has done monitoring government spending. In February, the paper called Citizens Against Government Waste "Washington's leading opponent of pork-barrel spending."

"Its annual Pig Book, which lists the government's narrow giveaways, is used by news outlets worldwide to ridicule federal earmarks," the story said.

By Derek Kravitz |  June 2, 2008; 3:00 PM ET
Previous: Afghan Reconstruction Gets New Watchdog | Next: Another Hill Staffer Caught in Abramoff Net


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I do not see the problem here...

McCain has always been against earmarks.
CAGW has always been against earmarks...ergo, likely allies.

McCain investigates a fraudulent deal between the Air Force and Boeing and people go to jail. CAGW fights waste and fraud in the government...ergo likely allies.

The Air Force finally gets around to having an open and fair bid.

John McCain supports open and fair bids.
CAGW supports open and fair bids...ergo, likely allies.

Does the Post have a problem with open and fair bids? Does the Post prefer defense contracts given out based on pork? Hello??

Am I missing something?

Posted by: Political Girl | June 2, 2008 9:59 PM

I would like to correct several inaccuracies in your June 2 blog. You stated that the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste "has twice endorsed McCain for president and donated nearly all of its campaign cash to McCain since 2004." In fact, it was the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste Political Action Committee (CCAGW PAC) that endorsed Sen. McCain for president on February 1, 2008. The PAC did not endorse Sen. McCain's 2000 presidential bid or any presidential candidate that year, because the PAC did not exist. It did endorse Sen. McCain for Senate in his last reelection race in 2004.

From 2004 to the present, the CCAGW PAC has raised more than $88,000. An $11k contribution to McCain constitutes 12.5 percent of that amount, so it is hardly "nearly all of its campaign cash." I also want to make it absolutely clear that all of the endorsements and campaign contributions are carried out by the CCAGW PAC, not the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste or Citizens Against Government Waste. We expect that this information will henceforth be reported accurately.


Tom Schatz

Thomas A. Schatz
Council for Citizens Against Government Waste PAC
1301 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036

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