An expert is warning that Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign could be vulnerable to concerns over reports of influence peddling that have been dogging the senator for years.
The allegations first surfaced in 2000, as McCain began pushing for campaign finance reform, an effort that resulted in the McCain-Feingold bill co-sponsored with Wisconsin’s Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.
As early as March 2, 2002, the Center for Public Integrity noted, “Sen. John S. McCain’s presidential aspirations are firmly anchored to his central theme of campaign finance reform.”
But the organization continued: “So which should the voter believe? The McCain rhetoric, which emphasizes cleansing Washington of its corrupt special-interest culture, or the McCain adviser who represents the worst examples of that same special-interest influence? The answer isn’t easy.”
The adviser to which the CPI was referring is McCain campaign manager Rick Davis.
“This is precisely the type of information people doing opposition research will use in the general election to destroy McCain’s credibility and paint him as just another Washington insider,” issue-advocacy media consultant Demos Chrissos, president of RapidResponseMedia, told WND.
Over 20 years, Chrissos has worked behind the scenes on a number of high-profile GOP campaigns and now focuses on issue advocacy work for groups. Chrissos’ reaction was to McCain’s long-standing relationship with Davis, the senator’s campaign manager in both 2000 and 2008.
The background for charges of McCain’s involvement with special interests traces back to 1999, two years before the senator assembled his Reform Institute in Virginia.
In 1999, McCain refused to recuse himself when the Commerce Committee gave legislative oversight approval for mergers then before the Federal Communications Commission involving two communications companies that were Davis, Manafort & Freeman lobbying clients – COMSTAT Corp., a government-owned satellite company, and SBC communications, a Baby Bell phone company.
It was Davis who, from 2001 to 2005, drew a six-figure salary from the Reform Institute and also pulled a separate salary of an undisclosed amount from his own lobbying firm, Davis, Manafort & Freeman.
Both the Reform Institute and Davis’ lobbying firm operate from the same office building address at 211 North Union Street in Alexandria, Va.
In 2003 and 2004, Davis apparently solicited CSC Holdings, a subsidiary of the Cablevision Systems Corporation, headed by Charles F. Dolan, to make two separate $100,000 contributions to the Reform Institute.
At that point, Davis was serving as McCain’s chief political strategist.
Reform Institute Form 990 statements filed with the IRS show Davis was being paid $110,000 a year by the Reform Institute for consulting services in 2003; in 2004, Davis became Reform Institute president and director for an annual salary of $122,000.
But in between the two separate $100,000 contributions Cablevision made to the Reform Institute, McCain, then chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission supporting Cablevision’s desire to continue packaging customer TV programming in a manner more profitable to Cablevision.
In 2005, after the Associated Press exposed McCain’s apparent conflict of interest in the Cablevision case, McCain resigned as Reform Institute chair.
By the beginning of 2006, the Reform Institute website no longer listed McCain in any formal capacity with the tax-exempt entity.
But other Reform Institute donors with ties that received favorable treatment from McCain and the Senate Commerce Committee included Echosphere, a communications company started by Charles Ergen, a founder of EchoStar Communications and the DISH Network, and the Chartwell Foundation, a charitable group founded by A. Jerrold Perenchio, a billionaire with a substantial ownership position in Hispanic television broadcaster Univision.
Davis also owns 3eCD, an internet consulting company, with his lobbying company partner Paul Monafort.
According to Lisa Lerer writing in Politico.com, McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign has hired the company to run its website for a cost of approximately $175,000 at the end of the first quarter 2007.
Lerer also reported Davis is drawing $20,000 a month salary as the campaign manager of McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“If all these scandals about McCain are bubbling up now,” Chrissos said, “I hate to imagine what dirt the Democrats will come up with, once the national campaigns become focused and their media pros have a chance to go to work.”
McCain had been considered out of contention in the 2008 presidential contest until he won the New Hampshire primary, largely because of the disdain for his work with Sen. Ted Kennedy to sponsor the “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation introduced in both the 109th and 110th Congress.
As a result of McCain’s surprise surge to become the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party, McCain escaped the vetting front-running presidential candidates normally receive.
Still, information about McCain’s involvement with the Reform Institute, which has been backed by George Soros, and the way he has handled various issues during his Commerce Committee assignment, have been available in the public record and widely discussed on the Internet.
In recent months, Chrissos has produced a number of immigration and border security related television spots for Grassfire.org, including a national television campaign titled “Where’s the Fence,” and another supporting PardonTheAgents.com, a website created by Grassfire.org to support the release of Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean from federal prison.
Media wishing to interview the author of this article, please e-mail Tim Bueler.