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Senator McCain's $1,300 Lapel Pin

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Collectors of political memorabilia recently missed a golden opportunity to increase the value of their collections. Last week in Riverside, California, Kelly and Duane Roberts hosted a fundraising luncheon for Senator John McCain's presidential campaign. Tickets for the noontime luncheon in the Raincross Ballroom of the Riverside Convention Center went for $1,000. But for a $2,300 contribution, the invitation for the meal promised attendees an added treat: a campaign lapel pin.

I know that costs for campaign trinkets have gone up in recent days, but $1,300 for a lapel pin seems a bit steep.

Then again, we shouldn't be too surprised that Republican donors can afford such expensive things as Tiffany-priced lapel pins. The wealthiest people in the United States have done very well in the Bush years. While working families have seen the cost of everything from gas, groceries, health care and college skyrocket at alarming rates, the wealthy have seen their taxes go down and their share of the national income go up. That explains why the GOP's party organizations continue to hold a massive fundraising advantage over the Democrats. At the end of last month, for example, the Republican National Committee had $53.5 million in the bank to use for Senator McCain's campaign, compared to $3.9 million for the Democratic National Committee.

Of course, you would never know this if you relied on the corporate media for details on how well the rich are doing or how frivolous John McCain has been about financing his campaign. During the debates held in the recent primary season, the millionaire news anchors who asked questions of the candidates spent far more time discussing things that matter to the wealthiest members of our society, like capital gains taxes, than they did on items like college tuitions, family day care and inner city transportation, issues that matter to working families.

You could see these skewed priorities at work again in mid-June when the press covered-up any discussion of John McCain's hypocrisy on campaign finance reform. Two weeks ago, Senator Barack Obama's announced he would rely on volunteer campaign donations during the general election, rather than taking funds from the taxpayers. Obama made the decision to opt out of federal funding because he knows the system as it currently operates is broken. He wants to run a campaign backed by millions of committed and caring citizens, rather than the corporate lobbyists and fat cats that send millions to the GOP.

Yet, editorial writers and the network talking heads suggested that Obama's decision, which made perfect sense, was somehow a betrayal of principle or some kind of character flaw. They gave lots of airtime and ink to Senator McCain's assertion that the Obama decision raised concerns about "trust" and "should be disturbing to all Americans."

You would never know from the media coverage that Senator McCain has absolutely no standing to criticize anyone on campaign financing issues. Since February, John McCain has been breaking the law. In February, he was told by the chairman of the Federal Elections Commission that he could not bow out of the federal financing system during the primaries because he had agreed to participate and had secured a bank loan predicated on his agreement to accept public funds. But once McCain began to win some primaries and the money started to flow in, he went back on his commitment. He and the corporate lobbyists who run his campaign decided to go out and start collecting big bucks from the big spenders who could afford $1,300 lapel pins.

So, since February, when he was informed that federal law prohibited him from doing so, Senator McCain has been raising and spending money illegally. He has some nerve lecturing us about trust, character and other candidates' betrayals. What's more, throughout this campaign, in addition to flouting the law, McCain has undermined the spirit of reform by flying around the country on a corporate jet owned by his wife Cindy's beer company. That's hardly straight talk or stand-up behavior.

Here's how Barry Meier and Margot Williams described the McCain travel scam in a little-noticed May item in The New York Times: "During a crucial five-month period Mr. McCain's campaign regularly used a corporate jet owned by the Phoenix-based beer distributor that Mrs. McCain heads, saving the campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars. His campaign pays rates well below market ones for the plane's use because of an unresolved exemption in a recent campaign finance law that Mr. McCain backed."

Senator McCain's campaign bus, the so-called "Straight Talk Express," gets a lot of media play. As he travels around the country on his subsidized jet, perhaps Mr. McCain could spare us any sanctimonious talk about Senator Obama's decision to forgo asking taxpayers to pay for his presidential campaign.

And perhaps the next time he starts whining about Senator Obama, some brave reporter will ask John McCain the $1,300 question: "When, Senator, will you stop breaking the law?"