John McCain never met a lobbyist he didn’t like, especially ones who are affiliated with the International Republican Institute.
Over the years, Mr. McCain has nurtured a reputation1 for bucking the Republican establishment and criticizing the influence of special interests in politics. But an examination of his leadership of the Republican institute — one of the least-chronicled aspects of his political life — reveals an organization in many ways at odds with the political outsider image that has become a touchstone of the McCain campaign for president.
Certainly the institute’s mission is in keeping with Mr. McCain’s full-throated support for exporting American democratic values. Yet the institute is also something of a revolving door for lobbyists and out-of-power Republicans that offers big donors a way of helping both the party and the institute’s chairman, who is the only sitting member of Congress — and now candidate for president — ever to head one of the democracy groups.
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.
A few of the more prominent friends of Saint McCain:
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 ofCharlie Black, an institute donor and McCain campaign adviser.
The parade of lobbyists and fund-raisers at the dinner is emblematic of Mr. McCain’s tenure at the institute, one of a pair of nonprofit groups — taxpayer-financed and each allied with one of the two major political parties
If anything, the overlaps seem more pronounced in his latest quest for the presidency, and they involve institute board members associated with his campaign and donors with interests before the Senate. Mr. Madigan, the institute’s vice chairman and a McCain fund-raiser, represented the government of El Salvador in 2004, when the institute was monitoring presidential elections there. Mr. Madigan’s firm has represented six foreign governments and sometimes lobbied Mr. McCain’s Senate office.
Among those clients is the government of Colombia, which has paid the firm at least $590,000 over the last 18 months. One issue Mr. Madigan has been pushing on behalf of the Colombians is a pending free trade agreement with the United States. Several weeks ago, Mr. McCain traveled to Colombia and, in keeping with his views on trade, spoke about the need for the accord.
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
Update – a brief history of the International Republican Institute
Presidential hopeful John McCain is hiding a skeleton in his closet. Not your typical political scandal, Senator McCain’s dirty little secret is his longtime involvement with the International Republican Institute (IRI), an organization that operates in 60 countries and is budgeted by millions of US taxpayer dollars each year. The IRI is “officially” a politically independent entity, though in reality it is aligned in most respects with the Republican Party and its ideals. Senator McCain has been chairman of the IRI since 1993 and Lorne Craner, president of the organization, is one of the presumptive Republican candidate’s informal foreign policy advisors. If McCain’s involvement with the IRI does not worry Latin America yet, it certainly will if the policies that have had such a destructive influence in the past are backed by the power of the presidency. His connection to the IRI could endanger already stressed US-Latin American relations in the event of a McCain victory.
More on that topic laterFootnotes:
- for some reason, even though McCain’s love for lobbyist cash has never been hidden, nor his love for Republican talking points [↩]