McCain Would Be the SECOND Lobbyist President

Christy has been doing great work exposing the lobbyists running the McCain campaign. She showed how common (in both sense of the word) it is for McCain to get in bed with lobbyists. She did a profile of what a nice guy Rick Davis is. And a post showing that the one thing that will interrupt McCain’s campaign schedule (since we know it’s not votes in the Senate) is a schmooze session in Deer Valley.

It sure raises the specter of a presidency run by lobbyists, doesn’t it?

The thing is, the notion of a presidency run by and for the lobbyists isn’t really a new thing. Consider the following highlights from the Bush Administration:

Ed Gillespie

Remember when the Administration was flailing last summer, as more and more dirt piled up on Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales? The Bush Administration brought in a person to replace both Dan Bartlett and Karl Rove to retool the Administration and try to salvage Bush’s legacy. Gillespie brought along the considerable baggage of his lobbying client list, without taking reasonable precautions to ensure he was working for the American people–and not his former clients.

Ever since Ed Gillespie became Bush’s replacement for Dan Bartlett (and after that, for Rove), I’ve been trying to track the clients of Quinn Gillespie–the firm that Gillespie co-founded. After all, Gillespie is a guy who, up until days before he took on one of the most powerful advisory roles at the White House, was a big-time lobbyist, with a broad clientele. And Gillespie has declined to recuse himself automatically from matters concerning his former clients.

Despite the potential for conflicts of interest, Gillespie won’t be forced in his new role to recuse himself from all matters related to the companies he has lobbied for, said Ken Gross, a Washington-based attorney and former associate general counsel with the Federal Election Commission.

Instead, Gillespie will have to decide on a case-by-case basis if his activities could violate federal ethics standards.

So, when Bush pushes back S-CHIP eligibility to prevent S-CHIP from becoming a cornerstone to a universal, government-provided health care program, I think it relevant to consider that, until recently, Bush’s counselor was representing the interests of the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform–a corporate group pushing privately-funded healthcare. And as Bush prepares to veto a bill reforming the corrupt student loan process, I think it relevant to consider that Gillespie was also, until very recently, representing Nelnet, one of the student loan companies most deeply mired in the scandal. And as Bush commands Congress to enact a bill giving telecommunications companies immunity for their past illegal actions associated with the warrantless wiretapping program, you might want to remember that until recently, Gillespie was representing the interests of AT&T, Verizon, and the US Telecom Association.

In fact, as soon as rumors started flying that Gillespie was going to move to the oval office, the US Chamber of Commerce took the opportunity to put some last minute lobbyist cash in his pocket before he made the move.

You see, the rumor that Gillespie would replace Bartlett was reported at least as early as June 3. Bush made it official on June 13. And on June 15, Quinn Gillespie started working for a new client. A pretty significant one, as it turns out.

Just in time to work with Gillespie’s now incredibly wired former colleagues–but late enough to avoid any requirement that he recuse himself, the US Chamber of Commerce jumped in bed with Gillespie’s close associates. In the first two weeks Gillespie was working at the White House, the US Chamber of Commerce paid his former colleagues $40,000 to lobby Congress on banking issues, immigration, trade policy, and energy policy.

Ed Gillespie has not, himself, faced jail time for his conflicts of interest while with the Bush Administration, thus bucking a trend we’ll see below. In fact, he was instrumental in shielding the White House from any repercussions from the New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal. To follow that success, Gillespie has promised that Bush and the Republicans won’t be mired in scandal like they were in 2006–though he has yet to convince Ted Stevens not to run again. His primary strategy seems to be about dodging responsibility for crimes committed, though, and not avoiding crimes altogether. Not long after AT&T’s former lobbyist took a central role in the Administration, their primary focus became getting the telecoms out of any legal liability for having illegally wiretapped Americans.

But that wasn’t the only favor the newly Gillespie-led Bush Administration did the telecoms–Gillespie’s timing almost perfectly coincides with the Administration’s tardy push against Net Neutrality.

Jack Abramoff

The Administration saved itself the embarrassment of actually hiring Jack Abramoff–and they’re still twisting law and precedent to hide the degree to which Abramoff had ready access to the White House. But it’s clear that Abramoff had a key role in the eartly days of the Administration. While serving on the transition team Abramoff was able to influence hires–particularly in areas affecting the Department of Interior and Marianas Islands.

At least two people who worked on Abramoff’s team at Preston Gates wound up with Bush administration jobs: Patrick Pizzella, named an assistant secretary of labor by Bush; and David Safavian, chosen by Bush to oversee federal procurement policy in the Office of Management and Budget.

Abramoff’s close ties to the Administration and the party have tainted much of what the Administration does–and put Abramoff and several of his cronies in jail.

Stephen Griles

Stephen Griles, a James Watt-era Interior employee turned energy lobbyist before Bush picked him to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior, was precisely the kind of guy Abramoff and Cheney wanted at Interior. In his years at Interior, he contributed to lower standards for clean air and water, opened up new areas for oil and gas drilling, and contributed to an Enron-style accounting gimmick that allowed his former clients to drill on public lands at cut rates. And in spite of promising to recuse himself from matters affecting his former clients, he continued to lobby EPA for them while serving as the number two guy in Interior. Later, when Griles was trying to avoid jail time for this attentiveness to lobbyists, he tried to spin it as a good thing!

Mr. Griles responded to inquiries from citizens, lobbyists, Members of Congress and others was particularly accessible as a public official as demonstrated by his calendar. … Lobbyist Terry O’Connor [who lobbies for Shell] stated that Mr. Griles was very approachable while at the Department of Interior, and his "constants were always his candor and honesty, coupled [with] his approachability with an open door policy to meet with and listen to any stakeholder, irrespective of his or her point of view on the policy subject at hand. … In fact, Mr. Griles met with dozens if not hundreds of lobbyists while he was Deputy Secretary, and he had a meeting scheduled with lobbyists on every page of his weekly calendar.

(He also had several of those lobbyists he had been so attentive to write leniency letters in support of sentencing.)

Griles also had a penchant for affairs with ethically-challenged women. As a result of his affair with Italia Federici, Griles did favors for Jack Abramoff’s tribal clients. And the Enron-accounting for oil and gas companies was one outcome of an affair with his now wife Sue Ellen Wooldridge.

Griles is doing times for his lies to cover up how he catered to Abramoff’s needs. Still pending (AFAIK) is the trial for allowing an oil-industry beneficiary of Griles’ Enron-accounting gimmick to buy a house for he and Wooldridge.

These three are just three of the most obvious. Less well-known are:

  • Ann-Marie Lynch, a former PhRMA lobbyist turned Deputy Assistant Secretary of HHS for policy. In HHS, Lynch fought price caps on drugs and pushed brand-name drugs over generics. She’s one of the people we can thank for Medicare Part D’s problems.
  • Thomas Scully, a former for-profit hospital lobbyist turned head of Medicare. Scully oversaw a favorable settlement for one of his former clients, HCA, and hid the costs of the Medicare Part D program from Congress.
  • Charles Lambert, a former lobbyist for National Cattleman’s Beef Association turned USDA Deputy Undersecretary. Lambert has claimed Mad Cow disease was a hoax and opposed country-of-origin labeling.
  • Phillp Cooney, the former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute turned Chief of Staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Cooney repeatedly edited climate change reports to minimize the effects of human activities.

The list goes on and on–former mine executives in charge of mine safety, manufacturers’ lobbyist in charge of consumer safety, and so on. And that doesn’t include the revolving door working the other way–taking top Bush officials into lobbying positions in the private sector, a practice that has benefited defense, homeland security, and health care corporations mightily. When you give free rein to the lobbyists, it results in the wholesale gutting of the public interest. And not incidentally, it results in poor decisions–as science and open bidding are replaced by cronyism–and a failing economy.

We already know what happens when lobbyists take over the Oval Office. If John McCain is elected, along with his buddies Charlie Black, Rick Davis, and Vicki Iseman, you can expect more of the same.

7 replies
  1. phred says:

    I heard a comment this morning on NPR about the McCain story to the effect that it wasn’t obvious why the NYT added the salacious bit about the possibility of an affair, when the real matter at hand are the ties to lobbyists. Point taken, but I would be willing to bet that if it hadn’t been for the affair angle, I’m not sure anyone would have noticed the rest of the story. As another person commented, this is business as usual in DC now and McCain isn’t even one of the worst offenders.

    I think this is why Obama is getting such traction. People may have different priorities on what needs to get fixed first and what is most important, but I think the public is all to well aware of the fact that the government no longer serves the public interest and we have had enough.

  2. Neil says:

    This is strong backstory of the manifestation of lobbyists appointed to government positions because of their lobbying conections not despite them. A government of, by and for the benefit of powerful and connected business executives, government corruption not withstanding.

    I like this meme, it think it has wheels: “[H]ow common (in both sense of the word) it is for McCain to get in bed with lobbyists.”

    Texas Gov. George W. Bush… lashed out at John McCain’s reform credentials today, charging that the Arizonan has hypocritically used his position as chairman of a Senate committee to raise money from lobbyists and to travel on corporate jets. “I’m not letting Senator McCain get away with this Washington doubletalk,” Bush told reporters here. “He has been in Washington long enough to earn a very important committee chairmanship. He has used that position skillfully to forward his campaign.”
    [Washington Post, 01/05/00]

  3. phred says:

    Speaking of double talk… IIRC McCain ran out of money last summer and some of his staff worked for “free”. If they were lobbyists, then one could argue they donated the equivalent of billable hours to McCain, which makes an outright lie of his claim that he never takes money from lobbyists.

    • bmaz says:

      But that shop only has 2 members and needs at least four to operate; who will investigate Phred? Bush says that makes it legal!!!! Pardon the pixie dust…..

  4. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    EW, once again I marvel at your phenomenal ability to cull seemingly small details and assemble them to reveal the larger pattern.

    This single post strikes me as an indictment of US press. The names and relationships you list here are compelling; why hasn’t the NYT or the WaPo pulled these threads together? (Rhetorical question, please overlook.)

    phred @2, interesting observation about Obama’s credibility; in addition, there’s a case to be made it’s miraculous that Hillary has survived the depth of malice that these entrenched interests clearly represent.
    On the right, Huckabee is the only voice calling ‘bullshit’ on this crap. No wonder the GOP detests him. His success points to many of us on various points along the political spectrum utterly ‘fed up’ and appalled by the messes you’ve so skillfully revealed.

    You are a da Vinci of data, I swear.

  5. Phoenix Woman says:

    Well, looky here — Spikey Isikoff commits some journalism!

    He finds a BIG FAT HOLE in McCain’s story:

    A sworn deposition that Sen. John McCain gave in a lawsuit more than five years ago appears to contradict one part of a sweeping denial that his campaign issued this week to rebut a New York Times story about his ties to a Washington lobbyist.


    The deposition that McCain gave came in the course of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of his landmark campaign finance reform law, known as McCain-Feingold. The suit sheds no new light on the nature of the senator’s dealings with Iseman, but it does include a lengthy discussion of his dealings with the company that hired her, including some statements by the senator that could raise additional questions for his campaign.

    In the deposition, noted First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams (who was representing the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell) grilled McCain about the four trips he took aboard Paxson’s corporate jet to campaign events and the $20,000 in campaign contributions he had received from the company’s executives during the period the firm was pressing him to intervene with federal regulators.

    Asked at one point if Paxson’s lobbyist (Abrams never mentions Iseman’s name) had accompanied him on any of the trips he took aboard the Paxson corporate jet, McCain responded, “I do not recall.” (McCain’s campaign confirmed this week that Iseman did fly on one trip returning to Washington from a campaign fund-raiser in Florida.)

    At another point Abrams asked McCain if, “looking back on the events with Mr. Paxson, the contributions, the jets, everything you and I have just talked about, do you believe that it would have been justified for a member of the public to say there is at least an appearance of corruption here?”

    “Absolutely,” McCain replied. “And when I took a thousand dollars or any other hard-money contribution from anybody who does business before the Congress of the United States, then that allegation is justified as well. Because the taint affects all of us.” Elsewhere McCain said about his dealings with Paxson, “As I said before, I believe that there could possibly be an appearance of corruption because this system has tainted all of us.”

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