McCain Says Yes to Lobbyist Money Connected to Tribes He Regulated

In the past decade and a half, John McCain has tried to position himself as the paragon of virtue in Washington, for instance campaigning on behalf of campaign finance reform in an attempt to inoculate himself from the charges that he was too close with the lobbying community, a perception based on his connection to the Keating Five scandal. But for all of his posturing, just how far has McCain moved himself away from K Street? The Hill's Susan Crabtree takes a look at McCain's efforts to bring in lobbyist cash linked with some of the Indian tribes he once helped regulate as chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who led the Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigation into the Jack Abramoff scandal, has sworn off taking tribal money in his presidential campaign but continues to accept donations from lobbyists whose firms represent tribal clients.

McCain spokesman Danny Diaz said the senator believes that tribes can spend their money in other ways. He added that McCain implemented the ban on tribal money when he became chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in the midst of the Abramoff scandal, before the panel began probing the tens of millions of dollars the tribes paid the former lobbyist.

Diaz, however, would not explain why McCain would not extend that policy to lobbyists representing tribes.


With his lackluster first-quarter presidential fundraising numbers, however, McCain cannot afford to alienate potential donors on K Street, many of whom either represent tribes or tribal interests directly or are employed at firms with lucrative tribal clients.

Over the past several months I've tried to detail at length how despite his perception as a maverick, John McCain is just a politician like any other, perhaps only atypical in his cynicism and his insatiable ambition. His list of politically-timed flip-flops is probably too long to even detail here, but some of the choice details of his career exposed in recent months include that he approached the Democrats about leaving the Senate GOP caucus in 2001 and that his team approached John Kerry about forming a unity ticket in 2004 (which was reported first here on MyDD). McCain's notable changes on issues in recent months have included a noticeable shift to the right on immigration reform and now, apparently, his not-so-subtle move to accept lobbying money connected with the Indian tribes he once helped regulate. With actions like these, it should come as little surprise that McCain is doing so poorly in head-to-head polling against some of his potential Democratic competitors for the White House in 2008.

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Crucial Lobbying and Ethics Reform Bill in Jeopardy!

The House Democratic leadership is going to finalize a lobbying reform bill this Friday, sending it to the House Judiciary Committee and then to the full House next week on Friday, if all goes as planned. This bill contains important provisions about "bundling" campaign contributions, phony grassroots campaigns and the "revolving door".

The importance of this bill is that is stands as a test on how serious the 110th Congress really is on lobbying and ethics reform. Remember Jack Abramoff, 'Duke' Cunningham, Bob Ney, the raids on Reps. Doolittle and Nevis? Remember the Democrats' campaign against the 'culture of corruption' in DC? The Democrats now have to show what they're worth in ethics reform, and the public should know this.

From last week's New York Times:

If the Abramoff ghost is not enough of a prod to clean up the Capitol, members need only check out their current ranks. (...) Last November's voters are still watching for something better than business as usual.

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A reform agenda for 2007

Update: Can't believe I missed it: The Washington Post reported this morning that Pelosi will offer legislation that will "break the link between lobbyists and legislation" as the first order of business on the first day. What will they propose?

Money is pouring into races all over the country. Abramoff has his own "desk" at the FBI. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Land Deal) is the latest to be under federal investigation. Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Slap-Happy) threatens bodily harm to her Libertarian opponent (who has MS and is in a wheelchair) after he brought up her contributions from Tom DeLay in a televised debate. Then there's the Lieberman loophole: $387,000 in unaccounted for petty cash.

And we haven't even experienced the malfunctioning voting machines yet (at least in the general).

Democrats, should they take back Congress, will need a real plan to clean up Congress, and put voters first -- an agenda that is deep, broad, and systemic. No more bandaids, or narrow process reform masquerading as big ideas.

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To take or not to take lobbyist contributions? Is that the question?

Jonathan's post yesterday raised a good question. After 12 years of Republican efforts to take over K Street as their own ATM, will Democrats hamper a bold agenda by raising money from scrambling lobbyists who see a Democratic takeover of Congress coming?

He argued that Democrats ought to reject that money. They don't need it, and shouldn't take it. Others, like Nancy Pelosi's spokesperson, say, everyone knows the Democratic agenda and that agenda won't be influenced by the money.

I think there's another bigger issue here... Instead of asking if the House Democrats will bite the hands that feed them on their issue agenda if they retake the House, we should ask this question:

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Post-2006: Money and politics

Matt has graciously asked me to post some ideas, strategic suggestions, and framing advice on the issue of money and politics, particularly as to how it relates to his #7 below ("K Street Finds its Sea Legs").

First off, I'm a little "d" democrat. I work for Public Campaign Action Fund (but these posts are my own), and I direct our Campaign Money Watch committee (we took on DeLay in his district in 2004, and educated voters in Ralph Reed's run for lieutenant governor, to list a few campaigns). I believe, in a democracy, citizens need more control over what happens in government than what they have today, and that the GOP Congress has placed power and its accumulation ahead of serving the public interest. If the Democrats take the House, and/or the Senate, the challenges may no where be greater than trying to pass a serious corrective measure on how far out of whack government is skewed to powerful interests and away from the needs of voters.

Certainly, there are examples where a Democratically-controlled Congress will "take on the special interests" like trying to correct what Big Pharma and the GOP Congress did to Medicare, and to refocus our nation's energy policy away from subsidizes Big Oil towards more renewable energy.

There's more...


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