Campaign Finance

$78 Million for What?

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The New York Times came out today with like its 20th did-you-know-John-McCain-consorts-with-lobbyists story of this election cycle. Here's how it begins:

As Senator John McCain waited to speak at the annual awards dinner of the International Republican Institute, a democracy-building group he has led for 15 years, lobbyists and business executives dominated the stage at a Washington hotel ballroom.

First up that night in September 2006 was the institute's vice chairman, Peter T. Madigan, a McCain campaign fund-raiser and lobbyist whose clients span the globe, from Dubai to Colombia. He thanked Timothy P. McKone, an AT&T lobbyist and McCain fund-raiser, for helping with the dinner arrangements and then introduced the chairman of AT&T, Edward E. Whitacre Jr., whose company had donated $200,000 for the event.

AT&T at the time was seeking political support for an $80 billion merger with BellSouth ? another Madigan client ? and Mr. Whitacre lavished praise on Mr. McCain, a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee. When Mr. McCain finally took the podium, he expressed "profound thanks" to AT&T before presenting the institute's Freedom Award to the president of Liberia, a lobbying client of Charlie Black, an institute donor and McCain campaign adviser. […]

Operating without the sort of limits placed on campaign fund-raising, the institute under Mr. McCain has solicited millions of dollars for its operations from some 560 defense contractors, lobbying firms, oil companies and other corporations, many with issues before Senate committees Mr. McCain was on.

I suspect this is probably much more shocking to the New York Times and other journalists who once drank the McCain-crusades-against-lobbyists kool-aid, rather than regular voters. (If you are among the former, or just want a refresher course, read reason on McCain's campaign-finance hypocrisy here and here.)

I'm more interested in the IRI, which is a key to McCain's transformation from a Vietnam Syndrome realist type to a full-throated National Greatness neo-conservative, in addition to being one of these skeevy outfits financed by taxpayers (with a $78 million budget and 400 employees) to simultaneously promote democracy abroad and partisan politics at home. For instance, there's this:

When Mr. McCain's Democratic rival for president, Senator Barack Obama, traveled to Miami in May to address Cuban-Americans, Republicans circulated a memorandum to reporters that quoted an anti-Castro group criticizing Mr. Obama's willingness to talk to Cuba's communist leaders. Not mentioned was that the group, the Cuban Democratic Directorate, was financed for years by the International Republican Institute ? it got more than $8 million during Mr. McCain's tenure. Though the directorate does not endorse candidates, its leaders are effusive in praising Mr. McCain.

And there's the whole, what-side-is-he-working problem such as this:

Another board member is the McCain campaign's chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann. Until March, he was registered as a lobbyist for several foreign governments, and he represented the government of Georgia last January when the institute sent election monitors there. Since joining the institute in 2004, Mr. Scheunemann has spoken with Mr. McCain or his Senate aides at least 42 times on behalf of his foreign lobbying clients, Justice Department records show.

Scheunemann is an interesting and very influential-to-the-campaign neo-con figure, who stands to land a prominent role in a McCain administration if conflict-of-interest scandals don't get him first.