Wash. Post's Cohen touted McCain's "visceral hostility" toward lobbyists, ignoring longstanding, growing relationship

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

In his Washington Post column, Richard Cohen asserted that Sen. John McCain has, for a "long time," displayed a "visceral hostility toward the ways of Washington's K Street lobbying crowd." In fact, McCain and his staff have longstanding ties to the lobbying industry, and he is reportedly strengthening those ties in anticipation of a 2008 presidential bid.

In his December 19 column, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen asserted that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has, for a "long time," displayed a "visceral hostility toward the ways of Washington's K Street lobbying crowd." However, as Media Matters for America has documented, McCain and his staff have longstanding ties to the Washington influence-peddling industry, and McCain has reportedly been strengthening those ties in anticipation of a 2008 presidential campaign, two facts not mentioned by Cohen.

An article in the March 8 edition of The Hill newspaper reported that McCain "has been reaching out to K Street to strengthen his national fundraising network" as part of "a quiet effort by his political team to court inside-the-Beltway donors and fundraisers in preparation for a possible 2008 presidential run." The Hill noted that McCain has courted some of the same high-profile lobbyists who were fundraisers for President Bush's presidential campaigns. In addition, in his December 14 nationally syndicated column, carried in The Washington Post, Robert D. Novak described efforts by McCain to shore up support among Washington lobbyists in preparation for a 2008 run:

Some 30 invited corporate representatives and other lobbyists gathered at the Phoenix Park Hotel on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning to hear two senior mainstream Republican senators pitch the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain. They were selling him to establishment Republicans as the establishment's candidate. Nothing could be further from McCain's guerrilla-style presidential run in 2000, which nearly stopped George W. Bush.

[...]

It is beginning to look like "McCain Inc." -- that is, party regulars, corporate officials and Washington lawyers and lobbyists moving toward John McCain, the man they feared and loathed eight years ago. The GOP, abhorring competition and detesting surprises, likes to establish its presidential nominee well in advance.

The Post reported on December 10 that McCain has, thus far, garnered the support of more than two dozen of the top fundraisers from Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, including two lobbyists, Wayne Berman, owner of Berman Enterprises, and Sigmund Rogich, owner of the Rogich Communications Group, who both earned the status of "Ranger" during Bush's 2004 presidential campaign, meaning they raised $200,000* or more. Former Rep. Thomas Loeffler (R-TX), currently a lobbyist, and his wife Nancy both contributed $5,000 to McCain's political action committee, Straight Talk America, at the end of 2005, and are reportedly supporting a McCain run in 2008. The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) also noted in 2000 that many of McCain's top advisers were connected to the Washington lobbying industry, including:

  • Richard Davis, former White House aide to President Ronald Reagan and McCain's campaign manager in 2000; managing partner in the lobbying firm Davis Manafort Inc., which is based in Arlington, Virginia.
  • Timothy McKone, formerly a senior lobbyist with Davis Manafort and later vice president for congressional affairs at SBC Communications, Inc., was one of McCain's primary fundraisers in the 2000 campaign.
  • Kenneth Duberstein, the founding chairman and CEO of the Duberstein Group, identified by CPI as "one of the most powerful lobbying shops in Washington," and former Rep. Vin Weber (R-MN), a partner at the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Clark & Weinstock lobbying firm, served as political advisers during the 2000 campaign.

In an article for the February 21, 2000, issue of Newsweek, reporter Evan Thomas quoted a Washington lobbyist saying of McCain, "He's hustling the same guys the rest of 'em are. No more, no less." The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) also noted in a February 17, 2000, press release that McCain collected $121,000 in campaign contributions from lobbyists and their families during the 2000 cycle. Media Matters has also previously detailed more longstanding ties between McCain and the Washington lobbying community, including:

  • During his campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, McCain reportedly relied heavily on the fundraising efforts of lobbyists connected with industries that McCain oversaw as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. On February 4, 2000, The Wall Street Journal reported that "the McCain campaign is crawling with lobbyists ... raising money for Mr. McCain's campaign, helping him formulate policies and representing well-heeled clients in Washington." The Journal added: "Of every $10 the McCain campaign raised last year, $1 came from the Washington area or from political action committees, a bigger ratio than that at the Bush, Gore or Bradley campaigns."

    An April 28, 1999, Washington Post article suggested that lobbyists saw no downside to supporting his presidential campaign: either McCain won, in which case he would be grateful for their support, or he continued as commerce committee chair, in which case he would be grateful for their support.

  • McCain used corporate jets while serving as Commerce chairman. The February 7, 2000, edition of CNN's Inside Politics featured a report in which national correspondent Bob Franken noted then-Gov. George W. Bush's charge that, in Franken's words, "McCain has a double standard, talking campaign finance reform, for instance, while accepting private jet transportation from corporations who do business before his Commerce Committee." McCain acknowledged using the jets, telling CNN: "We had almost no money when we were using the corporate jets. I could not get around from one place to another and meet my campaign schedule without it. Now we have a lot of money, thanks to the Internet and our successes, and we're able to charter a jet."
  • McCain's staff has made use of the "revolving door." As noted in an April 28, 1999, Washington Post article, John W. Timmons -- who served as McCain's legislative director and senior counsel to the Commerce Committee in the 1980s -- was working as a lobbyist for America West Airlines when he co-hosted a 1999 McCain fundraiser. According to a December 27, 1990, Business Wire article, Timmons was elected by the airline's board of directors to serve in "the newly created position of vice president of government affairs" and would be "responsible for establishing a Washington office and representing America West in the nation's capitol." According to CPI, by the end of 1999, Timmons had become a "top lobbyist" for AT&T -- a company whose interests were deeply tied to McCain's Commerce Committee work. Similarly, a June 6, 2002, Post article noted that "[i]n one of the neater recent revolving-door moves, Sonya D. Sotak left the office of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), where she was his legislative assistant for health care issues, to become a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America."

As Media Matters also previously noted, as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, McCain steered the investigation into the scandal involving convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff away from examining any potential wrongdoing by his Republican colleagues.

From Cohen's December 19 Washington Post column:

Anyone who knows McCain appreciates that his call for more troops in Iraq is not, at bottom, part of any political strategy. McCain is a thoroughly admirable man. Like any other politician, he will punt when he has to, but he is fundamentally honest, with sound political values. For a long time those values -- a belief in public service, a visceral hostility toward the ways of Washington's K Street lobbying crowd and a sense of honor that his Vietnamese captors came to appreciate -- obscured the always present, but muffled, sound of drums and bugles.

But the martial music grows louder and more insistent as McCain leads a charge whose mission cannot be defined and whose sound is increasingly grating to the American people. Colin Powell put it nicely Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation." "If somebody proposes that additional troops be sent [to Iraq] ... my first question to whoever is proposing it is, what mission is it these troops are to accomplish?" That "somebody" is none other than McCain. This is a sad tale of two cities. To secure Baghdad for a brief time, McCain risks losing Washington forever.

From Novak's December 14 column, published in The Washington Post:

Some 30 invited corporate representatives and other lobbyists gathered at the Phoenix Park Hotel on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning to hear two senior mainstream Republican senators pitch the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain. They were selling him to establishment Republicans as the establishment's candidate. Nothing could be further from McCain's guerrilla-style presidential run in 2000, which nearly stopped George W. Bush.

Invitations to Tuesday's event were sent by Trent Lott, the newly elected Senate minority whip. Over coffee, Lott and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) pushed McCain, though neither previously was seen as a McCainiac. They were not for McCain in 2000, and neither were the assembled party activists.

It is beginning to look like "McCain Inc." -- that is, party regulars, corporate officials and Washington lawyers and lobbyists moving toward John McCain, the man they feared and loathed eight years ago. The GOP, abhorring competition and detesting surprises, likes to establish its presidential nominee well in advance.

From the March 8 Hill article:

Good-government advocacy groups working on lobbying reform say their longtime ally Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has played a smaller leadership role on the issue than they had expected.

McCain's lower-than-hoped-for profile on the sensitive subject coincides with what prominent lobbyists describe as a quiet effort by his political team to court inside-the-Beltway donors and fundraisers in preparation for a possible 2008 presidential run.

Though the coincidence may raise questions about why McCain is not being more outspoken about lobbying reform, a senior Republican strategist dismissed any link between McCain's involvement in the reform effort and his presidential ambitions.

"I suspect the lobbying reform isn't tied to that," said the strategist, who observed that it would be difficult for McCain to help forge an 11th-hour compromise between the parties or the House and Senate if he takes a staunch position at this early point in the debate. "He wants to ride in to save the day on lobbying reform."

And an aide to a Democratic senator who has been heavily involved in lobbying-reform discussions said that McCain has been a stronger advocate of meaningful reform than almost every other member of the GOP caucus.

But outside the Senate, McCain's usual allies say he could have done more to strengthen what they consider a generally disappointing reform bill. At the same time, lobbyists say that McCain has been reaching out to K Street to strengthen his national fundraising network. While McCain's efforts to court Bush contributors around the country have been reported, his efforts inside the Beltway have been overlooked.

[...]

McCain raised eyebrows among reformers last year when he declined to team up with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), his staunch ally in past campaign-finance battles. Feingold used to joke that people had begun to think that his first name was McCain because they were mentioned together so frequently.

Feingold and McCain both introduced lobbying-reform bills last year but did not co-sponsor each other's bills.

Feingold explained in an interview that McCain wanted to wait until after the Indian Affairs Committee, which he chairs, had finished hearings on indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff before endorsing legislation. He said that he is talking with McCain about lobbying reform on "almost a daily basis" and that they are "working very closely."

Feingold and McCain had also worked closely in the weeks leading up to introduction of the McCain lobbying-reform bill last year, a Senate aide familiar with their negotiations said. But in the end Feingold decided not to sponsor McCain's bill because it did not go as far as his own in restricting certain lobbying activities.

Several of President Bush's lobbyist "Pioneers," who raised more than $100,000 for his campaign committee, said that McCain is reaching out to K Street to bolster his prospects in the 2008 GOP primary.

Correction: 

This sentence originally read: "The Post reported on December 10 that McCain has, thus far, garnered the support of more than two dozen of the top fundraisers from Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, including two lobbyists, Wayne Berman, owner of Berman Enterprises, and Sigmund Rogich, owner of the Rogich Communications Group, who both earned the status of "Ranger" during Bush's 2004 presidential campaign, meaning they raised $100,000 or more." However, as The Washington Post reported in that same article, a "Ranger" is a person who raises $200,000 or more, while a "Pioneer" raises $100,000 or more. Media Matters for America regrets the error.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Richard Cohen
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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