CLC President Trevor Potter Statement on the Enduring Legacy of Senator John McCain


At the news of Senator John McCain's passing, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) President Trevor Potter, who served as John McCain’s general counsel during both of his campaigns for president, in 2000 and 2008, released the following statement in honor of Senator McCain’s legacy: 

“The lessons we can draw from John McCain’s personality are his grit, determination and an unwillingness to ever give up in pursuit of the greater public interest. 

“Without a champion like McCain, comprehensive campaign finance reform never would have passed. For him, campaign finance reform was not just a one-time legislative milestone, but a mission. It was a major pillar of his 2000 Presidential political platform, and he was committed to ensuring that the solution he worked to achieve was constitutional and would endure. Unfortunately, even he could not foresee the results of changes in the membership of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the resulting overturning of precedent, after his initial court victories. 

“People forget that John McCain was the first target of dark money spending, a phenomenon that has become all too common in today’s elections. At the time, it was shocking because political money was usually easier to trace. It happened in 2000, when there was a sneak attack on him by a group that called themselves ‘Republicans for Clean Air,’ which ran millions in television ads on Super Tuesday saying he was in favor of pollution. The press discovered that these ads were paid by a 527 group that did not have to disclose their donors, so they wondered whether it was an agent of the George W. Bush campaign making the expenditure. In fact, it turned out that was indeed two wealthy Bush supporters from Texas.

“This seemed completely contrary to longstanding principles of transparency in election spending, and it lead to Congress amending the tax law in 2001. They broadly agreed that nonprofit groups should not be able to spend money in elections without disclosing donors. There was such a clear, bipartisan consensus about this at the time that even Senator Mitch McConnell spoke out about the need for disclosure.

“Over time, Senator McCain earned a reputation as a truth-teller who would speak his mind, which often meant speaking truth to power. To pass the overhaul of the campaign finance system, the Bi-partisan Campaign Reform Act, known more popularly as McCain-Feingold (2002), Senator McCain had to overcome the resistance of the entire Republican leadership and establishment, which included President Bush, the Speaker of the House and the party campaign committees. He was so committed to passing the bill that he took the highly unusual step of campaigning for the bill on the House side of Capitol Hill, despite being a senator. 

“After McCain-Feingold, Senator McCain stood up again and again in public life for his principles and beliefs. The country and our political life will be sorely diminished by this loss.

CLC was initially created to defend in court and help implement Senator McCain’s watershed campaign finance reform law. And CLC worked on the front lines to help preserve the law and achieve a major victory in the first major challenge to the law in McConnell v. FEC. CLC continues that work today.”