McCain tough on McHugh

A Republican lawmaker who is President Barack Obama’s pick to become the next secretary of the Army endured a tough grilling at Thursday’s confirmation hearing from Sen. John McCain.

Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), the former ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, fended off questions from McCain, the Arizona Republican and Obama’s opponent in last year’s presidential election, about campaign contributions from a defense-lobbying firm that is now under investigation for possible campaign finance violations.

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McHugh has received $160,250 in donations from the now-defunct PMA Group, whose founder, Paul Magliocchetti, is reportedly under investigation for making “straw-man” donations to members of Congress.

Responding to McCain at the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, McHugh said he has ordered his accountant to scrub his campaign funds to make sure he did not receive any donations from “phantom donors.”

“Obviously, I’ll never use my campaign funds for personal gain again,” McHugh said. He also stressed that if the “veracity” of the PMA donations made to him comes into question, he would prefer to give the money to charity.

McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a decorated Vietnam veteran, fired off his criticism of McHugh’s acceptance of PMA donations from the beginning of the confirmation hearing.

“There is an aspect that I find troubling, and that is a record of accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists like Paul Magliocchetti and his PMA lobbying firm,” McCain said in his opening statement.

“I have no reason to believe that Congressman McHugh behaved improperly in any way, but it does create an appearance problem and one that I do not agree with.”

McCain said that McHugh’s acceptance of PMA donations and requests for earmarks will not disqualify him from the Army secretary post, “but it does blemish what was, otherwise — is — an exemplary record of public service.”

McHugh strongly refuted that he ever sought earmarks for PMA’s clients in exchange for campaign donations or other contributions.

McHugh made the case that he has shared McCain’s views about the effect of campaign contributions on politics, noting that he supported the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

“It didn’t make my leadership happy, but it made me feel good,” McHugh said.

Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he wanted to see McHugh confirmed by the Senate before the August recess.

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