The “L” Word

By VA Blogger

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 groups’ 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. A campaign tactic that relies on voter ignorance should be universally deplored. The reality is that John McCain is an honorable man, and the United States would be lucky to have him as its next President.


  • I think this is largely a non-story and a really bad call by the NYT, but what do you think about McCain’s own staff at that time showing concern? This is the part that has me scratching my head.

  • Ed, I think it was simply over-protective political image types worrying about appearances, even if there was no scandal involved.

  • 10 feet tall and Bulletproof says:

    We have Abramhoff to blame for the perception. (before anyone gets on a tear, Herry Reid was also a client)..
    And the double standard continues, because Howard (the scream) Dean has participated in the very actions he wants to persecute McCain on.
    Sadly, the greater number of voters out there have been dumbed down to soundbytes, and the democrats are depending on that.

  • RichmondDem says:

    All I can say is the NYT better have more in this story to come, or they’re going to look like idiots.

  • 10 feet tall and Bulletproof says:

    RichmondDem, they dug for a year or more, and had nothing. They were rumored to have been preparing to release this bomb later in the year once McCain had the nomination and had been confirmed in the Convention.
    The New Republic got wind of this and was about to release their story , and it would have savaged the NYT and made them look petty. So, they released the story now, ahead of the New Republic story….and were made to look petty.

  • I thought the NYT was having internal struggles with this for some time. Some editors thought the story was crap and some didn’t. The NYT was going to run this earlier but the infighting pushed it out to the point where, as 10 says, TNR put them on the clock.

    They made a shockingly bad decision whether on the clock or not.

  • 10 feet tall and Bulletproof says:

    If this was Plan A, and attacking his citizenship was Plan B… I am absolutely giddy in anticipation of C and D….
    Will they be fundraiser’s wetdreams as well? Only time will tell.

  • 10 feet tall and Bulletproof says:

    Plan C falls by the wayside, and McCain gets another blip on the fundraising.
    His part in the Keating 5 is revealed to have been a republican inserted among the democrats so they wouldn’t have to take the whole fall.

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