John McCain’s staff — campaign and Senate — is populated with lobbyists who have worked for many of the very companies for which McCain is charged with holding accountable. His current Senate chief of staff, Mark Buse, went from directing McCain’s Commerce Committee staff to being a telecom lobbyist and then back to running McCain’s Senate office. In the legal business, we call this an appearance of impropriety.

For John McCain, this appears to be "business as usual, but keep it on the QT." That revolving door lobbyist access makes the "Straight Talk Express" look more like an In-n-Out drive-thru.

Which is directly at odds with his "Ethics Man" PR veneer, raising all sorts of questions. Unless you are a journalist trying to make Charlie Black working for McCain seem like no big deal. Meet Michael Scherer of Time:

There is a single lobbyist, Black, who has admitted that he has made cell phone calls to deal with private client issues from the McCain bus. But that’s it. According to the McCain campaign, there is not a single person on the McCain campaign payroll who also works as a lobbyist….

There are, however, other former lobbyists who do work for McCain, people like Rick Davis, the campaign manager, and Mike Dennehy, the political director, as well as other current lobbyists who have unpaid roles, including fundraising for the campaign. But the same can be said for the Obama campaign. Steve Hildebrand, who is Obama’s deputy campaign manager, gave up his job as a lobbyist for Environmental Defense when he joined the Obama campaign. Buffy Wicks, Obama’s western field director, is a former lobbyist for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. (emphasis mine)

Clearly Charlie Black who lobbies for Blackwater (under substantial oversight from the Armed Services Committee, of which McCain is the ranking member) and AT&T and other large telecoms, among many others (all under the auspices of the Commerce Committee of which McCain was chair until the 2006 election, and he’s a current GOP member) is just working for the McCain campaign out of the goodness of his little ole Southern heart.

A politically hooked in K Street corporate uber-lobbyist advising McCain for free, while making stratospheric rate lobbying calls on the McCain "Straight Talk" campaign bus ("Hey Bob, guess where I’m callin’ you from this mornin’?"), is an equal comparison to a fella who worked solely for the Environmental Defense Fund. Not.

Jeebus, did Scherer just fall off the turnip truck? Or did Rick Davis — lobbyist turned McCain campaign manager — slip him a blast fax he couldn’t refuse?

Speaking of Rick Davis, a quick Nexis search reveals a National Journal article from Feb. 3, 2007 (subs. only), which says that Davis is only on leave from Davis Manafort, his lobbying and consulting firm. (Media Matters has more.) And from which, Davis is listed as an employee giving a campaign donation to the McCain campaign. Plus, there was the weird Reform Institute money pass-through scheme that Davis controlled for McCain. And the McCain campaign is listed as paying Davis Manafort $30,000.00 in its last FEC filing as well, — perhaps Mr. Scherer might like to ask Davis about that? Just for starters.

I could keep going down a long list of names associated with McCain’s campaign and staff…but I think you see my point. Plus, Jeff Birnbaum has already done so. More than once. So has Media Matters.

In most jurisdictions, if you are an attorney or work in an advocacy position for a group with interests covered by government oversight, you are required to register as a lobbyist if you work a certain number of hours for that client — even if you aren’t really working as a "lobbyist" per se, but negotiating a settlement or some other agreement with a governmental agency. This is true if you represent a corporation or union, or any group in between with government interests, for just about every jurisdiction I know of for lawyers and other advocates.

Anyone who has been inside the Beltway understands that there is a difference between representing a client on a single matter or a single interest group advocacy, and gliding back and forth over the years from a posh K Street lobby shop to campaign work where you gather political favors. Someone who pretends that isn’t the case is simply an idiot or misinformed. As Jack Shafer explains:

The Times reports that the enemy of special interests, money in politics, earmarks, and lobbyists has staffed his presidential campaign with lobbyists and recently hired a lobbyist to run his Senate office. That particular lobbyist, Mark Buse, the paper reports, came to McCain’s staff through the revolving door. Before he was a telecommunication industry lobbyist, Buse was the director of McCain’s commerce committee staff.

When critics question McCain’s integrity, his allies, such as McCain adviser and lobbyist Charles Black, say the man is beyond reproach. "Unless he gives you special treatment or takes legislative action against his own views, I don’t think his personal and social relationships matter," Black told the Times.

This, of course, is hooey. What the lobbyist craves above all is access, and anything that provides that edge is coveted. In many cases, both lobbyists and their clients know the mission to change the mind of a member of Congress is hopeless. Often the point of the exercise is to be seen and heard by the member. If the lobbyist does not carry the day with the member, the client counts on the "relationship" to pay off in the next visit or the visit after that or the visit after that.

Getting inside the "red zone," to steal a metaphor from Washington Post reporter Jeffrey H. Birnbaum’s feature about the tourism industry’s recent lobbying efforts, is almost as good as a touchdown. Corruption, if that’s the right word for it, arrives on the installment plan as a lobbyist moves closer and closer to a member. (emphasis mine)

I’m sure there are some current or former lobbyists who are working now on behalf of individual presidential candidates because they truly believe their candidate is the best person to run the country. I’m also certain that a whole lot of them are power-hungry, greedy bastards hoping to cash in bigtime on their politically connected cache. The trick is discerning which folks fall into which basket.

Looking at McCain’s cronies? Well, a number of these folks raise a whole lot of questions that simply didn’t come to mind for Mr. Scherer. In fact, most of the media has been failing to ask these questions for a long time. Why is that, do you suppose?

Media Matters has much more, including:

At least 24 McCain staffers or advisers were either registered to lobby Congress (as of year-end 2007) or were previously lobbyists….Former and current federally registered lobbyists include McCain’s campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, chief political adviser, senior policy adviser, more than half a dozen economic policy advisers, and numerous national and state co-chairmen.

Clearly, nothing to see here. Let’s just keep sweeping it under the rug and take the campaign’s word for it, eh, Mr. Scherer? Journamalism at its finest…

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com