The “L” Word
Though the McCain campaign’s response to the embarrassing thin attempted NYT hit piece was perfect–and may have actually allowed McCain to gain ground instead of lose ground–McCain’s connection to several lobbyists was dramatically exposed as blatant hypocrisy from a man who decries lobbying and special interests.
Except that it wasn’t.
The entire “scandal” revolves around a willful misunderstanding of what lobbyists are. Most people–especially those in politics–are smart enough to understand that lobbying in and of itself is not unethical. In fact, it is a routine part of legislating and very useful when collecting information and understanding how legislation will impact certain groups, and what those groupsâ€™ positions are. However, there are those who would rather dishonestly allege that anyone seen with a lobbyist is unethical, hoping that voters don’t understand the difference.
The ethical challenges that lobbying presents is almost exclusively on the side of the Congressman in question. The “smoking gun”, the “quo” in quid pro quo, is whether a legislator is unduly influenced by lobbyists, and specifically by what those lobbyists do for the legislator. To that end, there is little evidence that John McCain has ever acted in a manner inconsistent with his long-held political beliefs for the benefit of a client of someone lobbying him, and there is ample evidence that he has often acted *against* those clients’ interests.
Because of that evidence and McCain’s public statements regarding “quid pro quo” arrangements with lobbyists, and McCain’s exemplary leadership on combating unethical lobbyist practices in the Senate since his own troubles with that in the late 1980s, McCain is often referred to as “anti-lobbyist”, thus his close relationship with lobbyists is seen as hypocritical. That is false. McCain is not anti-lobbyist in the slightest. Lobbyists are a fact of life in Washington, no matter how squeaky clean you may be. McCain is opposed to the influence lobbyists gain with Congressmen who in turn benefit those lobbyists through earmarks and legislation.
In order to be a successful lobbyist, you must be a people person, and be a friendly face as you try to persuade Congressmen to vote for you. Therefore, it should surprise no one that legislators and lobbyists often become friends, and are seen in public together.
Those close relationships are necessary, and in politics are often expressed through campaign contributions. Thus, lobbyists and firms often donate significantly to members of both parties, to keep friendly lines of communication open.
The best lobbyists not only have a keen political mind, they also have a deep understanding of both policy and the legislative process. Therefore, it should surprise no one that lobbyists make great staffers, both in D.C. and on the campaign trail.
The conflict of interest only presents itself if the legislator is unduly influenced by a lobbyist. Absent of such a smoking gun, an attack on the practice of lobbying is an attack on the First Amendment, and the right of citizens to petition their government. There is no such smoking gun in the case of John McCain. Specifically, McCain’s campaign has released at least a dozen instances where he has voted or acted in a manner contradictory to the wishes of the clients Vicky Iseman represents, and his votes and actions are consistent with his political beliefs. Thus any attack of McCain acting in a manner that is unethical does not have evidence and does not stand up to scrutiny.
No one, least of all me, is under the impression that campaigns are a fount of honesty and elevated discussion. But when blatant dishonesty rears its head, it is important to confront it with reality.Â A campaignÂ tactic that relies on voter ignoranceÂ should be universally deplored.Â The reality is that John McCain is an honorable man, and the United States would be lucky to have him as its next President.