Ignoring reported favors to lobbyists, land-swap deals, Politico's Martin and Allen uncritically quoted McCain's assertion that "[l]obbyists don't come to my office"

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Politico's Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's assertion during an "exclusive" interview: "Lobbyists don't come to my office. Because they know they're not going to be an earmark. They know they're not going to get a pork-barrel project. Senator Obama's gotten lots of 'em." Allen and Martin did not note that, to the contrary, lobbyists have reportedly received considerable benefits from McCain on behalf of their clients.

In an August 20 Politico article, chief political correspondent Mike Allen and senior political writer Jonathan Martin uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's assertion during an "exclusive" interview: "Lobbyists don't come to my office. Because they know they're not going to be an earmark. They know they're not going to get a pork-barrel project. Senator [Barack] Obama's gotten lots of 'em." Allen and Martin offered no challenge to McCain's claim that "[l]obbyists don't come to my office" or his suggestion -- reportedly false -- that McCain does not do favors for lobbyists. They did not mention actions McCain reportedly took on behalf of lobbyist Vicki Iseman's clients, Paxson Communications and Glencairn Ltd., nor did they note that McCain reportedly facilitated land-swap deals that benefited wealthy developers who were major McCain donors, one of whom had hired lobbyists who formerly worked on McCain's campaign and Senate staff.

Indeed, in an article in which Allen and Martin reported that McCain "called lobbyists 'birds of prey' Wednesday and vowed to enforce a lifetime ban on lobbying for members of his administration," of McCain's own numerous ties to lobbyists, the reporters wrote only: "The topic of lobbyists is sensitive for McCain because several of his top aides had lucrative lobbying practices."

Vicki Iseman

In a February 21 article detailing McCain's connections with Iseman, a lobbyist with the firm Alcalde & Fay, The Washington Post reported:

Three telecom lobbyists and a former McCain aide, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Iseman spoke up regularly at meetings of telecom lobbyists in Washington, extolling her connections to McCain and his office. She would regularly volunteer at those meetings to be the point person for the telecom industry in dealing with McCain's office.

The Post further reported:

In the years that McCain chaired the commerce committee, Iseman lobbied for Lowell W. "Bud" Paxson, the head of what used to be Paxson Communications, now Ion Media Networks, and was involved in a successful lobbying campaign to persuade McCain and other members of Congress to send letters to the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Paxson.

In late 1999, McCain wrote two letters to the FCC urging a vote on the sale to Paxson of a Pittsburgh television station. The sale had been highly contentious in Pittsburgh and involved a multipronged lobbying effort among the parties to the deal.

At the time he sent the first letter, McCain had flown on Paxson's corporate jet four times to appear at campaign events and had received $20,000 in campaign donations from Paxson and its law firm. The second letter came on Dec. 10, a day after the company's jet ferried him to a Florida fundraiser that was held aboard a yacht in West Palm Beach.

McCain has argued that the letters merely urged a decision and did not call for action on Paxson's behalf. But when the letters became public, William E. Kennard, chairman of the FCC at the time, denounced them as "highly unusual" coming from McCain, whose committee chairmanship gave him oversight of the agency.

McCain's campaign denied that Iseman or anyone else from her firm or from Paxson "discussed with Senator McCain" the FCC's consideration of the station deal. "Neither Ms. Iseman, nor any representative of Paxson and Alcalde and Fay, personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC regarding this proceeding," the campaign said.

In addition, The New York Times reported on February 23 that, on a separate issue, McCain -- along with then-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) -- sent a letter to the FCC on December 1, 1998, "urg[ing] the commission to abandon plans to close a loophole vitally important to Glencairn Ltd., a client of Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist." The Times further reported, "The provision enabled one of the nation's largest broadcasting companies, Sinclair, to use a marketing agreement with Glencairn, a far smaller broadcaster, to get around a restriction barring single ownership of two television stations in the same city." McCain's December 1 letter warned that the FCC's plan to close the loophole, which McCain argued constituted a refusal to follow congressional intent, "will become part of our overall review of the commission's functions and structure during the next session of Congress," according to the Times article.

Arizona land swaps

In a May 9 article headlined "McCain Pushed Land Swap That Benefits Backer," the Post reported that McCain "championed legislation that will let an Arizona rancher trade remote grassland and ponderosa pine forest here for acres of valuable federally owned property that is ready for development, a land swap that now stands to directly benefit one of his top presidential campaign fundraisers." The Post continued:

Initially reluctant to support the swap, the Arizona Republican became a key figure in pushing the deal through Congress after the rancher and his partners hired lobbyists that included McCain's 1992 Senate campaign manager, two of his former Senate staff members (one of whom has returned as his chief of staff), and an Arizona insider who was a major McCain donor and is now bundling campaign checks.

When McCain's legislation passed in November 2005, the ranch owner gave the job of building as many as 12,000 homes to SunCor Development, a firm in Tempe, Ariz., run by Steven A. Betts, a longtime McCain supporter who has raised more than $100,000 for the presumptive Republican nominee. Betts said he and McCain never discussed the deal.

The Post also noted that "opponents were baffled by [McCain's] seemingly contradictory positions" on the legislation, and quoted Janine Blaeloch, founder and director of the Western Lands Project, asserting, "The bizarre thing to me regarding McCain is, we spent a lot of time with his staff, and we all seemed to be on the same page about the problems with this swap. But somehow, John McCain kept pushing it forward."

Additionally, the Post reported:

Betts is among a string of donors who have benefited from McCain-engineered land swaps. In 1994, the senator helped a lobbyist for land developer Del Webb Corp. pursue an exchange in the Las Vegas area, according to the Center for Public Integrity. McCain sponsored two bills, in 1991 and 1994, sought by donor Donald R. Diamond that yielded the developer thousands of acres in trade for national parkland.

Lobbyists bankrolling McCain's campaign

According to Public Citizen, McCain's campaign is supported by 76 fundraising bundlers who are either current or former lobbyists, more than double that of any other candidate of either party who has run for president this election cycle. Indeed, in a July 16 article, The New York Times reported that McCain "released an updated list of his top money collectors on Tuesday, revealing that nearly a fifth of those who have brought in the largest amounts for him, more than $500,000 each, are lobbyists or work for firms that engage in lobbying."

From the August 20 Politico article:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called lobbyists "birds of prey" Wednesday and vowed to enforce a lifetime ban on lobbying for members of his administration.

"Whenever there's a corrupt system, then you're going to have these birds of prey descend on it to get their share of the spoils," McCain said in a half-hour interview with Politico following a town-hall meeting in the southern part of this swing state.

McCain, clearly weary of vice-presidential speculation, began by saying preemptively that he was not going to say anything about the hot topic. His mood initially seemed sour, and his answers were clipped, although he warmed as the conversation went on.

"Let me just begin by saying that to save you some time, I'm not going to comment on the vice president," he said. "You can ask away, but ... I'm sure you understand."

The topic of lobbyists is sensitive for McCain because several of his top aides had lucrative lobbying practices.

His tough new language is designed to build his case that he would be an agent of change in a race against an opponent who has built his entire campaign on the premise that he will reform the political status quo in Washington.

"I point out what my record is, which is one that has not won me Miss Congeniality over the years," he said. "People want change in America -- we all know that -- and very legitimately so."

The senator went so far as to say: "Lobbyists don't come to my office. Because they know they're not going to be an earmark. They know they're not going to get a pork-barrel project. Senator Obama's gotten lots of 'em.:"

McCain's plan for the strict admonition on future lobbying by White House aides is part of a policy he imposed on his campaign staff this spring after questions were raised about their past clients.

"I would not allow anyone who worked for my administration to go back to lobbying," McCain said. "They would have to make that pledge."

[...]

Although McCain's campaign has become increasingly sharp in its attack on Obama, spending was one of the few times the senator even mentioned his opponent.

"Senator Obama has asked for nearly a billion dollars in earmarked pork-barrel projects. And he rails against lobbyists? I've never taken a single one," McCain said.

In response to a question about the influence industry, McCain noted: "I think there are too many lobbyists in Washington."

"But the fact is that they are the symptom of a disease," he continued. "As long as you have earmarking and pork-barrel spending and bridges to nowhere and money for DNA of bears in Montana and museums and all that, then you're going to have lobbyists.

"So it's kind of entertaining to me to attack the lobbyists rather than the source of the problem, which is the earmark. They'd all be out of business -- most of 'em would be out of business if we stopped pork-barrel and earmark spending."

Network/Outlet
The Politico
Person
Mike Allen, Jonathan Martin
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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