It Gets Worse For McCain

by dday

It's not the sex, it's the lying.

A sworn deposition that Sen. John McCain gave in a lawsuit more than five years ago appears to contradict one part of a sweeping denial that his campaign issued this week to rebut a New York Times story about his ties to a Washington lobbyist.

On Wednesday night the Times published a story suggesting that McCain might have done legislative favors for the clients of the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, who worked for the firm of Alcalde & Fay. One example it cited were two letters McCain wrote in late 1999 demanding that the Federal Communications Commission act on a long-stalled bid by one of Iseman's clients, Florida-based Paxson Communications, to purchase a Pittsburgh television station.

Just hours after the Times's story was posted, the McCain campaign issued a point-by-point response that depicted the letters as routine correspondence handled by his staff--and insisted that McCain had never even spoken with anybody from Paxson or Alcalde & Fay about the matter. "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC," the campaign said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

But that flat claim seems to be contradicted by an impeccable source: McCain himself. "I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue," McCain said in the Sept. 25, 2002, deposition obtained by NEWSWEEK. "He wanted their approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint."

While McCain said "I don't recall" if he ever directly spoke to the firm's lobbyist about the issue--an apparent reference to Iseman, though she is not named--"I'm sure I spoke to [Paxson]." McCain agreed that his letters on behalf of Paxson, a campaign contributor, could "possibly be an appearance of corruption"--even though McCain denied
doing anything improper.

Is PAX-TV even around anymore? Never mind, that's besides the point.

This is really, really bad for McCain. He's now contradicted himself in public. This is the kind of thing the media loves to hammer, and today's stories prove that this won't go away. What's more, the FEC is basically telling McCain that he cannot walk away from the public financing system.

The nation's top federal election official told Sen. John McCain yesterday that he cannot immediately withdraw from the presidential public financing system as he had requested, a decision that threatens to dramatically restrict his spending until the general election campaign begins in the fall.

The prospect of being financially hamstrung by the very fundraising system he helped create is the latest in a series of bitter challenges for the presumed GOP nominee, who still faces a fractured conservative coalition as he assumes the mantle of party leadership [...]

The implications of that could be dramatic. Last year, when McCain's campaign was starved for cash, he applied to join the financing system to gain access to millions of dollars in federal matching money. He was also permitted to use his FEC certification to bypass the time-consuming process of gathering signatures to get his name on the ballot in several states, including Ohio.

By signing up for matching money, McCain agreed to adhere to strict state-by-state spending limits and an overall limit on spending of $54 million for the primary season, which lasts until the party's nominating convention in September. The general election has a separate public financing arrangement.

But after McCain won a series of early contests and the campaign found its financial footing, his lawyer wrote to the FEC requesting to back out of the program -- which is permitted for candidates who have not yet received any federal money and who have not used the promise of federal funding as collateral for borrowing money.

The main reason McCain can't back out is that he received a loan using the public financing as collateral. But the most interesting part of this is that the FEC would have to vote to let McCain out of the public system. But they don't have a quorum right now, with the nomination of four members held up in the Senate because Bush won't withdraw the odious Hans von Spakovsky from the position. The other three would easily pass the Senate, but the Republicans have made it an all-or-nothing deal. Who led the fight on the Democratic side to keep von Spakovsky off the FEC? Barack Obama.

What would be hilarious would be McCain going to the White House, hat in hand, pleading with Bush to drop his demands and ditch von Spakovsky so that he can get off the public system that he built.

McCain can deny the sex part of this, and wage war with the New York Times, and get all the wingnuts behind him. But he's been caught in a web of lies, he has lobbyists populating his entire staff, a member of his leadership team just got indicted, his image as a reformer is being buried, and he might not have a dime to spend for the next SEVEN MONTHS.


UPDATE: The signature quote in the Newsweek story, from McCain himself:

"As I said before, I believe that there could possibly be an appearance of corruption because this system has tainted all of us."

UPDATE II: Any Democrat going on media to talk about this story needs to follow the template of Howard Dean's comments to the National Journal. They're brilliant. A taste:

Dean: I have no idea whether the affair story is true or not, and I don't care. What I do care about is John McCain -- and this has been well-documented -- is talking all the time about being a reformer and a maverick, and in fact, he has taken thousands of dollars from corporations, ridden on their corporate jets, and then turned around and tried to do favors for them and get projects approved. He has tons of lobbyists on his staff. This is a guy who is very close to the lobbyist community, a guy who has been documented again and again by taking contributions and then doing favors for it. This is not a guy who is a reformer. This is a guy who has been in Washington for 25 years and wants to give us four more years of the same, and I don't think we need that.

I broke down the interview here.