Rick Davis and AT&T Shacking Up

Boy, I thought it’d be hard to imagine an administration cozier with AT&T than George Bush’s–particularly since Bush replaced both Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett with AT&T lobbyist Ed Gillespie. But apparently, Rick Davis’ lobbying firm has been shacking up with AT&T:

So just how close are the ties between the McCain camp and AT&T? Well, AT&T shares a luxury skybox with Davis, Manafort Inc. at Nationals Stadium, which opened earlier this year and is home to the city’s baseball team. I say it “appears” because two sources, including one person who has been in the skybox, told me about the AT&T/Davis, Manafort luxury suite, but none of the relevant parties will comment on the matter. AT&T’s Washington lobbying office has not returned phone calls about the suite, nor has Davis, Manafort. Repeated attempts to seek comment from the McCain campaign have also been unsuccessful. Chartese Burnett, a spokeswoman for the Nationals, said the team does not disclose the holders of the luxury suites because of “privacy concerns.” But she did tell me that there are 66 suites at the stadium, which rent for between $160,000 and $400,000 per year.

There’d be nothing illegal about a shared arrangement. It would simply reflect the seamless web that exists between McCain and the lobbyists and special interests groups that he likes to criticize while out on the trail campaigning as a “maverick” and “change agent.” I just hope they get better iPhone service than I do.

 Now, for the record, Rick Davis thinks it’s "chasing ghosts" to go after the McCain team’s intimacy with big lobbyists.

WALLACE: Well, as a matter of personal privilege, I’m going to give you the opportunity to respond to David Axelrod, who said, you know, for all this talk about wait till we come in and shake the lobbyists, but the campaign team of McCain is filled with lobbyists or, in your case, former lobbyists. How do you respond?

DAVIS: Oh, I think that, you know, it’s just more of the same from David Axelrod. I mean, they’ve been running against ghosts of the past all along. And I think it just shows that they don’t really have anything to talk about.

If they want to run against Rick Davis or our campaign staff, let them. I think it’s hilarious. I think it’s a wonderful distraction from the real issues that we’re trying to debate.

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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.

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Dick and Ed and the NH Phone-Jamming

Now that we know that Dick Cheney’s lawyer was working DOJ to make sure that James Tobin would not be indicted until after the 2004 election, it’s probably worth returning to another few aspects of this story that involve the White House.

First, recall that the RNC paid for Tobin’s legal bills–to the tune of $3 million, most of that to Cheney’s lawyer’s firm.

The Republican National Committee, in turn, has paid $3 million in legal fees in criminal and civil cases growing out of the controversy. The RNC has paid at least $2.8 million to Williams & Connolly and other firms for Tobin’s defense, and about $150,000 to Covington & Burling to defend the RNC in a civil suit brought by the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

The RNC’s legal fees exceed the $2.4 million spent by Sununu, the winner of the U.S. Senate race.

Also recall that the NH GOP was on the phone with the White House just as the phone-jamming scandal was blowing up in its face.

Most tantalizingly to Democrats, evidence filed in Tobin’s trial in December shows 22 phone calls from Tobin to the White House between 11:20 a.m. Election Day, two hours after the phone jamming was shut down, and 2:17 a.m. the next day, four hours after the outcome of the election was announced.

Obviously, both details would seem to point to direct White House involvement. But conveniently for the White House, Ed Gillespie hid the White House’s direct involvement by claiming he made the decision to have the RNC pay Tobin’s bills.

Former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie decided to pay Tobin’s legal fees. "He was accused of doing something in his capacity as an RNC consultant, and we believed him to be innocent," Gillespie said. While the RNC had no contractual obligation, "it’s the custom, not written anywhere, that you covered your people," Gillespie said.

Gillespie said he informed the White House, but did not seek formal approval, before authorizing the payments. Mehlman said that under his chairmanship, consulting contracts now explicitly declare that independent contractors must be prepared to pay their own legal costs in civil and criminal cases.

Though, the New Hampshire Union Leader (from their paid archives; story date is May 19, 2006) notes that Gillespie’s story about whether he informed the White House before or after he authorized the payments changed a bit. Read more