The Off the Record Club Now On the Record, Still Desperate for Positive Press for McCain

I speculated the other day that Bob Novak’s Plame leak brokers in the Off the Record Club–specifically, top McCain aides Charlie Black and Ken Duberstein–were using him as a tool again when they leaked that McCain was about to name his running-mate.

Well, lo and behold, guess who’s now on the record, once again pitching an imminent announcement of McCain’s running mate?

Anxious to counter the blanket media coverage that has followed Sen. Barack Obama on his overseas journey, Sen. John McCain is weighing whether to announce his running mate in the coming weeks before the spotlight shifts to China and the opening of the Olympic Games next month.

"He’s in a position to make [the decision] on short notice if he wanted to," said Charles R. Black Jr., one of McCain’s top political advisers.

Two top aides to the presumptive Republican nominee said the decision is likely to be announced after Obama returns from Europe on Sunday and before the Beijing Olympics begin Aug. 8. They said the campaign fears that unanticipated events coming out of China — whether in the form of athletic accomplishments or human rights protests — could deflect attention from the announcement if it were made during the Games. [my emphasis]

And if you compare this on the record story with what Novak was told–"they didn’t want it to come out the way it was going to come out"–both stories seem designed to pressure McCain not to announce his running mate when he currently plans to announce.

Many Republicans say the traditional time frame for an announcement — the days leading up to the GOP convention — is not practical this year, because the Democratic convention ends so soon before the Republican gathering. It’s unlikely, they said, that McCain would announce his pick the day after Obama gives his convention speech.

And several McCain aides said they oppose the idea of making a vice presidential announcement during the Olympics.

That, and I’m sure Charlie Black and friends are desperate to get whathisname back in the press, now that Obama’s sucking up all the media’s attention. How many more times do you think Charlie Black is going to try this ploy, before someone labels him the Boy Who Cried "Veep!"?

Once a Predictable Tool, Always a Predictable Tool

novak-pawned.pngPoor Bob Novak. Usually when people use him for political ends, he’s able to maintain the fiction that the leaks he gets are true.

But not so his "scoop" that McCain was going to announce his Veep choice this week:

I got a suggestion from a very senior McCain aide late yesterday afternoon that he was going to announce it this week, that they didn’t want it to come out the way it was going to come out, and they suggested that I put it out. I then called another senior person, who said, "I can’t talk about that but wouldn’t this be a terrific week to announce it, that is, with Obama getting the headlines? So I just put something on the Internet that the McCain camp–sources close to the McCain campaign suggested he might, he might name it this week, but didn’t disclose the name. I, I since have been told by certain people that this was a dodge, they were trying to get a bit of publicity to rain on Mc–on Obama’s campaign. That’s pretty reprehensible, if it’s true, but we’ll find out in a few days whether, uh, what I was, suggested was true or was a scam.

Curiously, Novak doesn’t seem all that pissed at being set up as a tool. Given that he was quick to admit Karl Rove and Richard Armitage as his sources for the CIA leak case–though not, remember, Scooter Libby–that sort of suggests Novak’s not that surprised or pissed this tip turned out to be false. Otherwise Novak would name the senior McCain aides.

Then again, I can’t help but remember the central role that the Off the Record Club played in the leak of Valerie Wilson’s name. There was Ken Duberstein, the guy who set up Richard Armitage to leak to Novak. He’s McCain’s senior political aide. The founder of the Off the Record Club, Richard Hohlt, is the guy who faxed Novak’s column to Rove in advance, so he would know that Valerie was good and outed so Rove could start prepping the secondary "Wilson’s wife is Fair Game" campaign. I don’t think Hohlt has a significant role in McCain’s campaign–though he is "known as the person you go to to try to get stuff in Novak’s column." Another key Off the Record Club member sure does have a key role in McCain’s campaign, though: Charlie Black, McCain’s ethically-impaired Chief Strategist. Read more

Energy Policy? Check. Foreign Policy? Check.

The USA Today has the news that, like McCain’s energy policy, McCain’s foreign policy was crafted by a lobbyist actively lobbying on those same issues (h/t freepatriot).

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.

But wait, it gets better. That lobbying call Scheunemann had about Georgia with McCain’s aide? He had it at a time when Scheunemann was working for free for McCain. Apparently, when he was broke last year (and, appropriately, flying around on the Sugar Momma Express), McCain was compensating his campaign staffers in access.

Given all the discussion of retroactive immunity for FISA, you guys are especially going to love this bit:

Campaign spokesman Jill Hazelbaker said the ethics policy is not retroactive.

That’s what you’d expect out of a campaign managed by a lobbyist who, until March, was lobbying Senators (including McCain?) to pressure them to give telecoms retroactive immunity. But Hazelbaker’s insistence that there is no retroactive ethical fix reinforces my point from yesterday: once your campaign policies have been developed by a bus full of lobbyists, there’s no way to cleanse those policies of ethical taint.

Really, McCain ought to give up this lobbyist disclosure whitewash. We’d all get through detailed discovery of the degree to which lobbyists own McCain’s campaign faster if he would just tell us which of his policies weren’t developed by active lobbyists.

Problem is, I can’t think of a likely policy area where McCain’s campaign isn’t dripping with lobbyists. You think maybe his blog outreach program is free of lobbyist taint?

You Can’t Clean the Stench Out of the Straight Talk for Lobbyists Express

The WaPo placed the news that Tom Loeffler, McCain’s Fundraising Chair, has left the campaign because he was unwilling to give up his lobbying gig, on A1.

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.

With five high-level resignations in the last week or so and the prominence of coverage about those departures, you might think McCain is really cleaning house.

But here’s the thing. Even with just the resignations of the last ten days, McCain has shown a real inconsistency about what kind of lobbying ties compromise his campaign. With Loeffler and Eric Burgeson, there seem to have been two problems. First, both were active lobbyists, who lobbied the Senate for clients whose issues fell squarely in the purview of the Commerce, Armed Services, and Indian Affairs Committees on which McCain serves. In addition, both represented foreign "countries," Loeffler Saudi Arabia and Burgeson the Kurds.


Of course, that’s true of Charlie Black, as well. For example, Black lobbied the Senate on FISA, and has had an affinity for representing evil dictators throughout his career. So why is okay for Charlie Black to stick around while Loeffler and Burgeson take their blackberries and go home?

John McCain has a ready explanation: Charlie Black (and Rick Davis, someone else McCain couldn’t afford to lose) aren’t really lobbyists anymore:

Charlie Black and Rick Davis are not in the lobbying business; they’ve been out of that business,

Today’s WaPo story provides a little more detail about what that really means.

Until recently, his top political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., was the head of a Washington lobbying firm. Black retired in March from BKSH & Associates, the firm he helped found, to stay with the campaign. Davis ran a lobbying firm for several years but has said he is on leave from it.

Indeed, Black does seem to have stepped down from his lobbying work sometime before the quarterly disclosure forms were submitted starting on April 18. So by "out of the business," McCain must mean "out of the business for a whopping month and a half." But there are two problems still.

First, how do you wipe clean all the lobbying Charlie Black did from the Straight Talk for Lobbyists Express? Black was, by his own admission, lobbying from McCain’s campaign bus.

Black said he does a lot of his work by telephone from McCain’s Straight Talk Express bus.

Read more

One Very Special Disclosure Survey

After losing a slew of dictator-connected advisors in the last week, the McCain campaign has finally decided it might be a good idea to vet the people hanging out with John McCain.

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis moved to avoid a recurrence of the situation with his conflict-of-interest policy, released late yesterday. It also sought to stem the impression that McCain’s campaign is run by lobbyists — a characterization Democrats have tried to make since it was reported that a senior adviser, Charlie Black, made lobbying calls from McCain’s signature bus, the Straight Talk Express. Davis himself is currently on leave from his lobbying and consulting firm, and the campaign removed two other officials this week for work they’d done on behalf of Burmese junta.


The memo establishes a new vetting process, requiring campaign aides to fill out a questionnaire on their status and to provide proof to the campaign legal department that they’ve terminated outside contracts.

In an show of civic responsibility, Progressive Media USA has filled out the forms for five of McCain’s top advisors. Here, for example, is part of Charlie Black’s now-completed survey:

McCain Staff Lobbyist Survey

NAME: Charlie Black

CAMPAIGN ROLE: Senior Political Adviser

Have you ever registered as a federal lobbyist?

Have you ever been a registered foreign agent?

Please list all of the foreign governments, political and other interests you lobbied for:
Read more

It’s Not Just McCain’s Advisors with Financial Ties to Evil Dictators; It’s His Wife

The other day, Cliff did a post listing all the ties to bloody dictators McCain’s advisors have. They include ties to dictators in Myanmar, Zaire, Nigeria, Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and–through Sun Myung Moon, North Korea.

Well, apparently, it’s not just his advisors McCain has to worry about. It’s also his wife:

Cindy McCain, whose husband has been a critic of the violence in Sudan, sold off more than $2 million in mutual funds whose holdings include companies that do business in the African nation.

The sale on Wednesday came after The Associated Press questioned the investments in light of calls by John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, for international financial sanctions against the Sudanese leadership.


According to McCain’s personal financial disclosure, Cindy McCain’s investments include two mutual funds — American Funds Europacific Growth fund and American Funds Capital World Growth and Income fund — that are listed by the Sudan Divestment Task Force as targets for divestment.

"Those have been sold as of today," said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.

Both funds have holdings in Oil & Natural Gas Corp., an India-based company that does business in Sudan. The American Funds Capital World Growth & Income Fund also has holdings in Petrochina, a Chinese government-owned oil company with vast investments in Sudan.

Last year, in a speech on energy policy to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, McCain cited China’s investments in Sudan as an example of regimes that survive off free-flowing petro dollars.


On Wednesday, Rogers said: "Senator and Mrs. McCain remain committed to doing everything possible to end the genocide in Darfur."

Rogers also said, "Now that you’ve busted the McCains failing to meet the standards Senator McCain claims to uphold on the campaign trail, we’ve decided Cindy should release her tax returns, just so you can be sure there are no other surprises like this–or her onetime $400,000 investment with Charles Keating that almost ruined Senator McCain’s career."

Oh wait, he didn’t say that last bit. Silly me! The McCain campaign obviously doesn’t need help vetting its staff and Cindy’s bank accounts!

Update: small edits thanks to watercarrier4diogenes. 

The First Stage Is Denial

And then they go on to anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance that John McCain will never be President.

Christy sent along this article catching McCain’s lobbyist friends denying that their lobbying interests have any importance on the campaign.

McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm though Davis on leave from the firm at the moment. Charlie Black, an unpaid senior adviser to McCain, is chairman of the Washington lobbying firm BKSH & Associates. Both of their firms have represented telecommunications companies whose business falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Commerce Committee on which McCain is the senior Republican member.


A McCain campaign aide who asked not to be identified said Davis has not been a registered lobbyist for two years. The aide said Black “is an unpaid volunteer and does not and will not lobby Senator McCain.”

John McCain would have you believe that lobbyists are in the business of donating their time for worthy causes, with no strings attached. And that Black’s promise not to lobby "Senator McCain" will extend to complete disinterest in policy issues that affect his clients if McCain were to be President. And that Davis’ two-year leave from lobbying with a firm he still has financial ties to somehow frees him of all interest in the success of that lobbying firm–or its clients’ interests.

This is why it’s so important to point out how false similar claims were when Bush cronies made them. Telecom lobbyist Ed Gillespie came in–refusing to recuse himself outright from issues pertaining to Quinn Gillespie’s clients. And voila, just weeks later, the Administration was awkwardly and belatedly weighing in against net neutrality. To say nothing of the fact that they’re now willing to let entire surveillance programs lapse in an effort to make sure Gillespie’s clients get immunity for having illegally wiretapped Americans.

The Bush Administration’s lobbyist-in-chief has made sure his clients’ interests take precedence over the privacy and free speech of Americans. And there’s no reason to think it would work differently with McCain’s lobbyists-in-chief.