Sen. John McCain’s ties with Washington lobbyists are not among the most serious challenges for his presidential campaign — not with widespread worries about the shape of the U.S. economy and public opinion still shifting away from his steadfast support for military commitments in Iraq.
But like a little yipping dog that won’t go away, questions about the potential sway of lobbyists on the Arizona Republican continue to follow the “Straight Talk Express.” McCain has repeatedly said he learned much about avoiding undue influences, or the appearance thereof, from the Charles Keating scandal while he was a congressman representing the East Valley. One outcome of his connection to the Keating Five was his persistent efforts to pass campaign reform in the hope of reducing the influence of money over national politics.
However, a story from the Washington Post in Saturday’s Tribune illustrates how McCain continues to be linked with lobbyists and campaign fund-raising despite his attempts to appear to be above the fray.
We aren’t finding fault with the proposed land exchange in Yavapai County that underlies the Post story. At least on the surface, legislation to equally swap privately owned ranch property with federal forest land is a reasonable solution to the tricky problem of managing public and private lands so intertwined that on a map they look like a checkerboard.
But McCain certainly must understand it looks rather odd that he didn’t come to support the land exchange until after the ranch owner hired three former members of McCain’s Senate and campaign staffs to lobby him, as the Post reported.
Then, after McCain became the bill’s main champion, Tempe-based SunCor Development was hired to build houses on some of the federal land up for exchange. SunCor’s top executive is a major player in pulling together McCain campaign donations, the Post reported.
We have long maintained lobbying and campaign money are not the universal evils that many, including McCain, have proclaimed them to be.
But what really hurts is that McCain complained about these tools of politics at the same time he continued to use them to benefit his constituents and his own career.