CBS' Smith failed to challenge claim by McCain's campaign manager -- a former lobbyist -- that McCain "is probably most feared by every lobbyist"

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

While discussing a New York Times article about Sen. John McCain's relationship with a telecommunications lobbyist, CBS Early Show host Harry Smith did not challenge McCain campaign manager Rick Davis when Davis asserted that McCain "is probably most feared by every lobbyist in this town of Washington"; he did not note that Davis is a registered lobbyist who, the Times reported, "represented companies" before McCain's committee.

On the February 21 edition of CBS' The Early Show, Sen. John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, responded to a New York Times article -- headlined "For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk" -- by claiming that "ironically," the Times targeted "the man who is probably most feared by every lobbyist in this town of Washington." Host Harry Smith did not challenge Davis' assertion; he did not note that Davis himself is the founder of a D.C.-area lobbying firm, or that he is a federally registered lobbyist (inactive as of 2005) who, the Times reported in the same article, "represented companies before Mr. McCain's Senate [Commerce Committee] panel."

Smith introduced Davis at the start of the interview as "McCain's campaign manager" and during the segment, Davis was identified in on-screen text as "John McCain's Campaign Manager." At no point in the interview did Smith point out Davis' lobbying background.

From the February 21 New York Times article:

One of his [McCain's] efforts, though, seemed self-contradictory. In 2001, he helped found the nonprofit Reform Institute to promote his cause and, in the process, his career. It collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in unlimited donations from companies that lobbied the Senate commerce committee. Mr. McCain initially said he saw no problems with the financing, but he severed his ties to the institute in 2005, complaining of "bad publicity" after news reports of the arrangement.

Like other presidential candidates, he has relied on lobbyists to run his campaigns. Since a cash crunch last summer, several of them -- including his campaign manager, Rick Davis, who represented companies before Mr. McCain's Senate panel -- have been working without pay, a gift that could be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

A July 11, 2007, Politico article reported that Davis, who also served as McCain's campaign manager in 2000, "founded a lobbying firm -- Davis, Manafort Inc. -- which has made at least $2.8 million lobbying Congress since 1998." According to a disclosure report filed with the Senate, Davis registered to lobby the Senate from 1998 to 2005 for Davis Manafort. A March 2000 report by the Center for Public Integrity noted that Davis represented two telecommunication companies, COMSAT and SBC Communication, Inc., that "had major (and controversial) mergers pending before the Federal Communications Commission in 1999, and both mergers were approved (the Commerce Committee has legislative oversight authority, and therefore quite a bit of political influence, over the FCC)." A February 3, 2007, National Journal article (accessed via the Nexis database) reported that "Davis, a longtime lobbyist and financial consultant," is "on leave" from Davis Manafort to work for McCain's campaign.

Additionally, Davis served as the president of the Reform Institute, an institute that the Times wrote was founded by McCain "to promote his cause and, in the process, his career." A July 28, 2005, Roll Call article (accessed via Nexis) by staff writer Paul Kane reported that Davis, who had been earning "$110,000 a year," "dropped his title of Reform Institute president" in July 2005.

From the February 3, 2007, National Journal article:

Still, McCain has a strong squadron of K Street allies. "Given McCain's stance as a reformer with a clear record on a broad range of issues, he's attracted support from surprising quarters," said Loeffler Group lobbyist William Ball III, a former secretary of the Navy and trade association CEO, and an old friend of the senator's.

Indeed, notwithstanding McCain's record on pushing lobbying and campaign finance reforms -- such as his sponsorship of landmark 2002 legislation barring campaign contributions of soft money to party committees -- he has pulled in considerable K Street backing.

On December 12, Rick Davis, a longtime lobbyist and financial consultant who is on leave from consulting firm Davis Manafort to serve as the CEO of McCain's exploratory committee, pitched a few dozen influence merchants at a Capitol Hill hotel. The event included pep talks from two GOP Senate colleagues -- Trent Lott of Mississippi and Pat Roberts of Kansas - touting McCain's credentials.

McCain has also garnered early fundraising and political help from former Rep. Tom Loeffler, R-Texas, who runs the Loeffler Group. A big Bush fundraiser in 2000 and 2004, Loeffler helped to organize a Texas event for McCain's PAC last year and is expected to do more fundraising this year. His partner, Ball, has also done yeoman's work for McCain by recruiting political allies in his native South Carolina and in Georgia, where he went to college.

Recently, Ball and Loeffler have approached other big names -- notably Donald Evans, Bush's old friend and former Commerce secretary, who chaired the president's 2000 campaign. To date, Evans has not committed to any candidate.

From the July 28, 2005, Roll Call article:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has taken a pair of recent steps that could help lay the groundwork for a White House bid in 2008, severing his official ties with a nonprofit reform group and restarting his political action committee.

While his Straight Talk America PAC gives him a renewed political platform, McCain also has formally stepped down from the board of the Reform Institute, a group he formed with his top strategists to push his signature issue of campaign ethics.

McCain said Wednesday that the "negative publicity" that came earlier this spring from his association with the institute and the fact that its fundraising was conducted by his long-time adviser, Rick Davis, prompted him to step down from the 501(c)3 group.

"I'm no longer associated with it. I'm no longer on the advisory board," he said.

This follows stories in March in The Associated Press and The New York Times that outlined how Davis served as the top staffer for the Reform Institute while also lobbying on behalf of clients who had interests before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee when McCain chaired the panel. In one case, Davis solicited a pair of $100,000 donations for the Reform Institute from Cablevision one week after the company's chief executive testified before Commerce on a provision McCain was actively supporting.

By cutting his own ties from the institute -- which was formed in the wake of his 2000 campaign and his successful 2002 effort to overhaul federal campaign laws -- McCain wants to inoculate himself from questions about whether he has held himself to the same standard as others.

In addition, Davis said Wednesday he had dropped his title of Reform Institute president and now serves the group on a voluntary basis. He had been earning $110,000 a year.

The nexus of what can be called McCain Inc., is based on Union Street in Old Towne, inside the office building that is home to Davis Manafort, his adviser's lobbying firm.

While Davis' official role with the PAC is still unclear, McCain's leading fundraiser, Carla Eudy, is expected to continue in that role for Straight Talk. She is also the top money person for the Reform Institute.

From the February 21 edition of CBS' The Early Show:

SMITH: Joining us now is John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis. Good morning, sir.

DAVIS: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: This article seems to imply, but doesn't flat out say, that Senator McCain had an affair with Vicki Iseman. You want to respond to that?

DAVIS: Yeah, I mean, this is like the worst kind of tabloid journalism on the front page of The New York Times. And we deplored it last night. We're going to push back today. We think it's unfair, unjust, and inaccurate, and I think The New York Times has a lot to explain for.

You said it best, all these things are implications -- two unnamed sources and no facts in the article. If anything, they try and drudge [sic] up all the old Keating Five stuff, 20 years old, to try and legitimatize [sic] what's nothing more than a tabloid story.

SMITH: Let me ask you this, though. Because The Washington Post also reports in the paper this morning that Senator McCain's staffers tried at some point to deny Miss Iseman access to the senator's office or try to encourage the senator not to see her. Can you deny that?

DAVIS: You know, it's right out of the New York Times piece. And what they did in The New York Times is they claim unnamed people indicated that that was the case, but John McCain's own chief of staff, Mark Salter, said it never was the case. So, somebody who's quoted and willing to put themselves on the line says, "No way," but The New York Times, picked up by The Washington Post -- and by the way, many other newspapers across the country -- print basically the fabrication from the Times.

SMITH: All right. Maybe the most significant allegations in this, though, is that Miss Iseman is, in fact, a lobbyist. She's a partner in an important firm. McCain has flown on some of her clients' private jets. And the notion here is that because she had extraordinary access to him, that he, in fact, tried to influence legislation on her clients' behalf.

DAVIS: I agree, Harry, that that is the most outrageous thing because they show absolutely no evidence of anything that he ever did for this lobbyist. And ironically, they take the man who is probably most feared by every lobbyist in this town of Washington, the man who's never done a favor for a lobbyist or a special interest, a man who has authored the ethics legislation, gone after the Jack Abramoffs of the world, and really set the standard for ethical behavior in this town, and without one shred of evidence, after talking to dozens of his former staffers, all of whom said this was not the case, didn't name a single one of them or even reference their interviews.

SMITH: Did Senator McCain directly contact Bill Keller, the editor of The New York Times, to try to get him to not run this?

DAVIS: No, he never even tried to get him to not run it. He contacted Bill Keller because their journalists, the four mentioned earlier in your article, were running around town, spreading this gossip to try and see what they could dredge up, and it was inappropriate and unprofessional behavior by The New York Times. And what John McCain called, is that that was what he was calling about. He's never tried to influence an article, never tried to plant a question. I mean, John McCain has spent his entire career on the back of that bus having a dialogue with journalists. Everybody knows it. He's the most successful politician in America. And yet, you know, they try to run a story that basically is full of innuendo and implications.

SMITH: All right, we shall see. Rick Davis, thank you very much for your time this morning.

DAVIS: Thank you.

Network/Outlet
CBS
Person
Harry Smith
Show/Publication
The Early Show
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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