I don’t have a big problem with Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio holding a campaign event at the restaurant of a convicted drug smuggler. I think it’s amusing because of their criminal justice perspective, but he did his time and righted himself, and we don’t give enough second chances to ex-felons in this country. It gives partisans an opportunity to point and laugh, but not much more than that.

This, however, is much more serious:

Late last month, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) joined with his pals Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) for a “Preserving America’s Strength” series of town-hall style meetings aimed at highlighting the potential impact of defense cuts. But while McCain’s office said that the “official trip” was being paid for entirely with campaign funds, a ThinkProgress analysis of McCain’s donors reveals that much of that money comes from defense industry political action committees [...]

At the recommendation of the Senate Ethics Committee, a McCain spokesman announced the trip would not be paid for with public funds, explaining that it was “an official trip being paid for with campaign funds — the recommended way to pay for travel such as this outside of a member’s home state.” Since the start of 2010, McCain’s campaign committee and leadership PAC have received more than $125,000 in combined contributions from defense contractors’ corporate PACs. Over his career, according to the Center for Responsible Politics data, he had taken more than $1.2 million in defense industry donations.

The New Hampshire stop on the tour was at BAE Systems’ Worrell/Weeks Aircrew Protection Center in North Merrimack. Only BAE Systems employees were permitted to attend. BAE Systems Inc.’s corporate PAC gave McCain $2,500 in 2010. the PAC also gave $5,000 to Ayotte in the same year and $10,000 to Graham in 2008, when he was last up for re-election.

I wouldn’t go as far as the Think Progress crew. They’re basically saying that the trip was paid for with campaign funds, and the campaigns involved got money from defense industry PACs, so the trip was subsequently paid for with defense industry dollars. That’s not entirely fair; these Senators have large campaign war chests and other donations could have picked up the cost. But it brings forward a couple larger issues. First, the relationship between McCain, Graham and Ayotte’s advocacy for defense contractors and their contributions is pretty obvious and should not be ignored.

Second, holding one of the events at BAE Systems with only BAE employees in attendance shows you what a Potemkin tour this all was. It was designed entirely to generate worrisome headlines in the media about defense cuts and position McCain and Graham and Ayotte as saving the day. It was meant to scare defense industry employees into action. And I’m sure when it gets discussed in the future, it will get described as a “grassroots tour” hearing the concerns of the people about weakening our national security.