Lobbyists Leave a Mark

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Yesterday's Times story on John McCain's relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman has touched off criticism on the number of lobbyists McCain counts on his campaign staff, and potential favors he may have done for Iseman's clients. As if that wasn't enough bad news for the campaign, it looks like the FEC isn't quite ready to let McCain out of the presidential public financing system for the primary.

McCain's reputation on campaign finance issues gives any story that questions his ethics extra mileage (especially when McCain's response to the allegations isn't entirely accurate), which Joe Conason notes in his Salon story on a possible legislative favor McCain did for the cruise ship clients of Iseman's firm Alcalde & Fay:

 

Eight years ago, when McCain's connection with Iseman alarmed his staffers, the most lucrative lobbying contracts won by Alcalde & Fay were with the cruise ship industry. In 2001 alone, Iseman's firm received well over a million dollars from passenger ship companies and interest groups, which include local port authorities in Florida as well as companies such as Carnival Cruises. That year, the International Council of Cruise Lines paid Alcalde & Fay a fee of $990,600, by far the largest amount from a single interest that the firm has earned during the past decade. Iseman herself is a longtime registered lobbyist for Carnival.

It may be just a coincidence that around the same time, McCain became a dedicated sponsor of bills to deregulate the cruise and passenger ship industries, which have been hobbled for decades by protectionism and national security laws. Year after year, he promoted legislation that would have permitted greater freedom for foreign-flag cruise ships to operate in U.S. coastal waters, even while he occasionally scolded the cruise operators for persistent safety problems on their boats. During those years, he became known as the best friend of the port authorities, cruise lines and others seeking to rewrite laws dating back to 1886 that protect American ships from foreign competition.

It's notoriously difficult to prove this kind of favor-trading goes on, but appearance counts for a lot and this doesn't look good. McCain's ability to fight off these attacks may be hampered by the FEC's notice that they have not let McCain opt out of the public financing program for the presidential primary and that he must therefore take care to not exceed the spending limits he's bound by.