Thursday, February 21, 2008

He works hard for the money

Just hours before the New York Times went live with a story that shines an especially bright light on John McCain’s unseemly, suspicious, overly close ties to Washington lobbyists (especially one Vicki Iseman), McCain took time to send out a very special e-mail to his supporters (in the e-mail, the line that I bolded links to a donation page that includes the same paragraph above.):

While I am confident of the eventual outcome of this primary race - the stakes are too high to take the nomination for granted. There are still more primaries, there are still three of us competing for the nomination and I am still working night and day to make sure that we have the funds necessary to compete and win the remaining state primaries.

Working night and day to make sure you have the funds? Is that how you spend your time, John? Not legislating, or voting, or even campaigning? You work night and day for campaign contributions? Why Johnny, we had no idea. . .

Except, of course, we all did.

John McCain, the self-styled champion of Capitol ethics and campaign finance reform is also the man who is legendary for his ties to K Street. McCain’s 2008 campaign is chockfull of lobbyists—far more so than any of his competitors, Republican or Democratic—including his campaign manager, co-chair, and senior policy advisor.

And now the Times, and, not to be left out, the Washington Post, have front-page stories detailing what a close relationship with the Arizona Republican can do for a lobbyist. . . oh, and her clients, too.

A champion of deregulation, Mr. McCain wrote letters in 1998 and 1999 to the Federal Communications Commission urging it to uphold marketing agreements allowing a television company to control two stations in the same city, a crucial issue for Glencairn Ltd., one of Ms. Iseman’s clients. He introduced a bill to create tax incentives for minority ownership of stations; Ms. Iseman represented several businesses seeking such a program. And he twice tried to advance legislation that would permit a company to control television stations in overlapping markets, an important issue for Paxson.

In late 1999, Ms. Iseman asked Mr. McCain’s staff to send a letter to the commission to help Paxson, now Ion Media Networks, on another matter. Mr. Paxson was impatient for F.C.C. approval of a television deal, and Ms. Iseman acknowledged in an e-mail message to The Times that she had sent to Mr. McCain’s staff information for drafting a letter urging a swift decision.

Mr. McCain complied. He sent two letters to the commission, drawing a rare rebuke for interference from its chairman.

Of course, that was a different FCC back in ’99, but one has to figure that the commission still got all kinds of requests for various kinds of action. Imagine what the tone and quality of McCain’s letters had to be to elicit a rebuke.

Of course, to hear the McCain campaign tell it this morning, they did nothing wrong:

U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today issued the following statement by Communications Director Jill Hazelbaker:

"It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit and run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.

"Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career."

What’s wrong with this non-denial denial, besides the fact that it is a non-denial denial? Oh, yeah—it’s blatantly untrue! McCain has never violated the public trust? McCain has never done favors for special interests or lobbyists? Never is long, long time—did Ms. Hazelbaker really want to go there?

Never, for instance, would include this (I quote at length from the Times article, but it is almost all confirmed in McCain’s own memoir):

Mr. McCain started his career like many other aspiring politicians, eagerly courting the wealthy and powerful. A Vietnam war hero and Senate liaison for the Navy, he arrived in Arizona in 1980 after his second marriage, to Cindy Hensley, the heiress to a beer fortune there. He quickly started looking for a Congressional district where he could run.

Mr. Keating, a Phoenix financier and real estate developer, became an early sponsor and, soon, a friend. . . . .

During Mr. McCain’s four years in the House, Mr. Keating, his family and his business associates contributed heavily to his political campaigns. The banker gave Mr. McCain free rides on his private jet, a violation of Congressional ethics rules (he later said it was an oversight and paid for the trips). They vacationed together in the Bahamas. And in 1986, the year Mr. McCain was elected to the Senate, his wife joined Mr. Keating in investing in an Arizona shopping mall.

Mr. Keating had taken over the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association and used its federally insured deposits to gamble on risky real estate and other investments. He pressed Mr. McCain and other lawmakers to help hold back federal banking regulators.

For years, Mr. McCain complied. At Mr. Keating’s request, he wrote several letters to regulators, introduced legislation and helped secure the nomination of a Keating associate to a banking regulatory board.

By early 1987, though, the thrift was careering toward disaster. Mr. McCain agreed to join several senators, eventually known as the Keating Five, for two private meetings with regulators to urge them to ease up. “Why didn’t I fully grasp the unusual appearance of such a meeting?” Mr. McCain later lamented in his memoir.

When Lincoln went bankrupt in 1989 — one of the biggest collapses of the savings and loan crisis, costing taxpayers $3.4 billion — the Keating Five became infamous. The scandal sent Mr. Keating to prison and ended the careers of three senators, who were censured in 1991 for intervening. Mr. McCain, who had been a less aggressive advocate for Mr. Keating than the others, was reprimanded only for “poor judgment” and was re-elected the next year.

Some people involved think Mr. McCain got off too lightly. William Black, one of the banking regulators the senator met with, argued that Mrs. McCain’s investment with Mr. Keating created an obvious conflict of interest for her husband. (Mr. McCain had said a prenuptial agreement divided the couple’s assets.) He should not be able to “put this behind him,” Mr. Black said. “It sullied his integrity.”

To me, that sounds like violating the public trust. To me, that sounds like doing a favor for a special interest. It sounded that way to the Senate Ethics Committee, too.

This, of course, is only one well-chronicled example of the kind of “straight talk” we can expect from sometimes Senator and fulltime presidential candidate John McCain—a man whose allegiance to the Bush agenda is trumped only by his fealty to Washington lobbyists.

Work it, Johnny!

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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