Amid spate of high-profile stories, Russert continues to ignore "the story about Senator McCain and lobbyists and ethics and money" on Meet the Press

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, who in February stated that "the story about Senator [John] McCain and lobbyists and ethics and money -- that continues," again ignored the issue of "McCain and lobbyists and ethics and money" on the May 25 edition of Meet the Press, despite numerous recent, related developments bearing on that issue.

On May 23, Media Matters for America noted that after asserting during the February 24 edition of NBC's Today that "the story about Senator [John] McCain and lobbyists and ethics and money -- that continues," NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert had not followed up on any of the numerous reports involving McCain and "lobbyists and ethics and money" on his NBC program Meet the Press, with the exception of a brief discussion later that day on the February 24 edition of the program. In the days following the May 18 broadcast of Meet the Press, numerous media outlets published additional reports on the issue of "McCain and lobbyists and ethics and money," as Russert put it, including three front-page articles in The Washington Post and one front-page report in The New York Times. Yet on the May 25 edition of Meet the Press, Russert again ignored the issue.

As Media Matters noted, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder first reported on May 15 that McCain's campaign has instituted a new policy regarding lobbyists it employs. Ambinder wrote: "After a series of disclosures forced the resignation of two McCain campaign aides with ties to unsavory regimes" -- Doug Davenport and Doug Goodyear -- "the campaign has decided to scrutinize the background of the entire staff to ferret out connections to lobbyists." Numerous newspapers followed up on the story, including The New York Times, which reported on McCain's new "conflicts policy" for campaign staff in a May 17 article headlined "In Effort to Avoid Conflicts, McCain Issues New Rules for Staff." The article noted that McCain "said Friday that his presidential campaign was beginning a new 'vetting process' intended to end the embarrassments over staff ties to private interests, foreign governments or independent political groups." It also reported that two McCain aides -- in addition to Davenport and Goodyear -- had been affected by the campaign's new disclosure policy. According to the Times, the campaign "severed its ties to Craig Shirley, a veteran public relations consultant who had helped handle outreach to conservatives" because Shirley "was also working for StopHerNow.com, an independent political group initially dedicated to attacking Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton that is now refocusing on Senator Barack Obama." The article also reported the McCain campaign "removed one of its energy policy advisers, Eric Burgeson, because he was also a paid lobbyist for energy companies."

On May 17, The Washington Post noted the McCain campaign's break with Shirley and Burgeson as well. In a May 19 front-page article, the Post further reported that "Tom Loeffler, the national finance co-chairman for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, resigned yesterday because of his lobbying ties, a campaign adviser said." The article described Loeffler as "the fifth person to sever ties with the campaign amid a growing concern over whether lobbyists have too great an influence over the Republican nominee," and noted, "Last week, campaign manager Rick Davis issued a new policy that requires all campaign personnel to either resign or sever ties with lobbying firms or outside political groups."

Stories "about Senator McCain and lobbyists and ethics and money," as Russert put it, continued to appear in major newspapers throughout the following week. In a May 20 front-page article headlined "Candidates Vie to Be The Anti-Lobbyist," the Post reported that "Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. John McCain on Monday of running a presidential campaign bought and paid for by lobbyists and criticized the presumptive Republican nominee for waiting more than a year to address the conflicts of several key advisers." That article went on to note:

Over the past week, McCain has publicly purged his ranks of several advisers who have lobbied for countries and corporations in an attempt to retain his reputation as a reformer on questions of ethics and influence in Washington. But several former lobbyists, including campaign manager Rick Davis and political strategist Charles R. Black Jr., remain as top advisers.

[...]

The policy leaves in place Davis and Black, both of whom have had lucrative careers as lobbyists and campaign operatives. Black said he has retired as a partner at BKSH & Associates, a Washington lobbying firm. A spokeswoman said Davis has taken a complete leave of absence from Davis Manafort, his lobbying firm. Both are "in compliance" with McCain's new policy, the campaign said.

On May 22, the Post ran another front-page article, this one headlined "McCain Adviser's Work As Lobbyist Criticized." That article began:

Longtime uber-lobbyist Charles R. Black Jr. is John McCain's man in Washington, a political maestro who is hoping to guide his friend, the senator from Arizona, to the presidency this November.

But for half a decade in the 1980s, Black was also Jonas Savimbi's man in the capital city. His lobbying firm received millions from the brutal Angolan guerrilla leader and took advantage of Black's contacts in Congress and the White House.

Justice Department records that Black's firm submitted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act detail frequent meetings with lawmakers and their staffs and lavish spending by Black and his partners as they attempted to ensure support for Savimbi, whose UNITA movement was fighting the Marxist Angolan government.

On May 23, the Post ran yet another article on the subject, this one headlined "McCain's Rules on Lobbying Face Test." That article reported that Black's wife, Judy Black, "is listed as a 'Trailblazer' for McCain, meaning she has raised more than $100,000 for his bid, according to the group Public Citizen," in addition to being "a national co-chair of the fundraising group 'Women for McCain,' " and having "a vibrant lobbying practice that includes a foreign client and several companies with business before the Senate Commerce Committee, where McCain is a senior member." According to the article, "Judy Black works at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a firm that earned $12.9 million in lobbying fees last year. She is listed as an agent of Dubai Aerospace Enterprises, whose partners include the government of Dubai, according to forms filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Since 2004, she has also represented telecomunications companies AT&T and Global Crossing Ltd., which have matters before the Commerce Committee." The article asserted, "The roles assumed by Judy Black as campaign volunteer and lobbyist highlight the difficulties McCain faces as he tries to eliminate the impression that their campaign work is also aimed at helping clients."

On May 25, in an article headlined "In McCain Campaign, a Lobbying Labyrinth," the Times reported that "[l]obbying experts also say there are other gaps in the campaign's lobbying guidelines," noting: "Lobbyists can try to influence lawmakers on behalf of corporate and other clients without registering, as long as the time they spend doing so does not exceed a specified threshold. They are also often not required to register if lobbying overseas on behalf of foreign politicians or companies." The Times went on to describe overseas lobbying ventures undertaken by Davis Manafort, and referenced a January 25 Washington Post article that reported that Davis arranged a 2006 meeting in Davos, Switzerland, between McCain and "Russian aluminum magnate" Oleg Deripaska two months after a Davis Manafort client "bought a stake in a company called Traxys, which trades in industrial metals." Deripaska "has been barred from entering the United States apparently because of alleged criminal ties," according to the Times. The Post article further described Deripaska as "a Russian billionaire whose suspected links to anti-democratic and organized-crime figures are so controversial that the U.S. government revoked his visa."

Additionally, on May 20, the Times ran a front-page article headlined "McCain Finds a Thorny Path in Ethics Effort," which began, "Sorting out the lobbying entanglements of his campaign advisers is proving to be a messy business for Senator John McCain." The article reported that "senior McCain advisers have acknowledged the difficulty of disentangling the complicated web of relationships between lobbyists and candidates" and asserted that the conflicts policy "could affect people at all levels of the McCain operation." It also reported on campaign members' lobbying on behalf of overseas clients, including "Wayne Berman, the campaign's deputy finance chairman, [who] has lobbied for the governments of Cyprus and Trinidad and Tobago, along with many other corporate clients." The Times also reported that McCain's "chief foreign policy adviser," Randy Scheunemann, "lobbied on behalf of foreign governments" and "met several times with Mr. McCain to discuss his clients' interests." It reported that Scheunemann "introduced the senator to the foreign ministers of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia as they tried to win admission to NATO, and a representative of Taiwan as it lobbied for free trade, records show. Mr. Scheunemann also accompanied Mr. McCain to Latvia in 2001 and Georgia in 2006."

On May 20, USA Today also reported on Scheunemann's overseas lobbying activities:

John McCain's top foreign policy adviser lobbied the Arizona senator's staff on behalf of the republic of Georgia while he was working for the campaign, public records show.

Randy Scheunemann, founder of Orion Strategies, represented the governments of Macedonia, Georgia and Taiwan between 2003 and March 1, according to the firm's filings with the Justice Department. In its latest semiannual report, the firm disclosed that Scheunemann had a phone conversation in November about Georgia with Richard Fontaine, an aide in McCain's Senate office.

Orion Strategies earned $540,000 from its foreign clients over the year ending on Dec. 1, reports show. Scheunemann also received $56,250 last year from March to July from McCain, according to campaign finance records.

The campaign consulting fees ended at a time when McCain was under financial pressure to cut costs, but Scheunemann remained the campaign's top foreign policy adviser. He represented McCain throughout last fall -- including an appearance at a Republican Jewish Coalition event during the same week he lobbied McCain's Senate office.

While not illegal or a breach of Senate ethics rules, Scheunemann's lobbying of McCain's staff as he was advising the campaign comes to light a week after McCain announced a new policy to avoid such conflicts. The new conflict-of-interest policy prohibits campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents and bans part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients.

The May 20 Times article reported on other lobbying connections to the McCain campaign as well:

Christian Ferry, who is a lobbyist for Mr. Davis's firm, is Mr. McCain's deputy campaign manager.

Susan Nelson, the finance director of the campaign, was as recently as last year a registered lobbyist for the Loeffler Group, for companies, including AT&T that have had business before Mr. McCain on the Commerce Committee. John Green, who has been reported to be coordinating the campaign's efforts with congressional Republicans, is registered as a lobbyist for Ogilvy Government Relations, Mr. Berman's firm. Carlos Bonilla, described by the McCain Web site as an economic adviser, is also a registered lobbyist.

Posted In
Elections, Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Tim Russert
Show/Publication
Meet the Press
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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