- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

Lanny Davis, a former special adviser to President Clinton and longtime Democratic activist, challenged reports today that Sen. John McCain may have done a favor for a female lobbyist with a deal pending before the Federal Communications Commission — calling them meritless.

Mr. Davis, who was lobbying on the same deal, said Mr. McCain refused the lobbying team”s request for an elaborate letter to the FCC supporting the proposed sale of a television station.

Mr. Davis said the likely Republican presidential nominee would only write a “neutral” letter inquiring about the status of a communication company”s effort to buy the station. In the letter, Mr. McCain only urged the FCC to act “soon.”

The New York Times and The Washington Post this morning reported on Mr. McCain’s ties to lobbyist Vicki Iseman and questioned some of Mr. McCain’s efforts on behalf of Paxson Communications, a client of hers in late 1999 that was trying to buy a Pittsburgh television station.

Mr. Davis said the Post”s story omitted comments he gave a reporter four weeks ago when asked about the likelihood Mr. McCain aided a lobbyist. He also said the paper disregarded quotes it previously published from him that defended Mr. McCain”s actions. Mr. Davis said the New York Times never contacted him.

“It is sad and unfortunate that facts are not included to make a fair story and that good journalism rules were not followed,” said Mr. Davis, who emphasized he doesn’t support the Arizona senator”s presidential bid.

“I am unhappy. I am sad that McCain”s actions are being described as improper when we went beyond the pale to avoid looking like he was violating an FCC rule.”

At the time of the implied transgressions, Mr. McCain was the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which had jurisdiction over the FCC. He wrote two letters to the FCC that year urging it to make a decision, though he said he did not intend to take sides in the deal.

Charlie Black, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain’s campaign, said the campaign gave the New York Times a lot of information defending Mr. McCain that was left out of the report. That included a list of 13 bills Mr. McCain introduced over the past decade that were at odds with clients of the lobbyist’s firm, Alcalde & Fay.

Mr. Black also said Mr. McCain’s Senate office chief of staff also went back and reviewed the records for a three-year period to determine how Mr. McCain had positioned himself on issues in which the lobby firm was involved.

“McCain was against them on two-thirds of those issues,” he said, adding that information was provided to the Times. “They don’t have a single one where it looks like McCain did them a single favor.”

At a press conference today, Mr. McCain said he wrote to the FCC only after the process had gone on nearly twice as long as usual.

“In the letter, I said I am not telling you how to make a decision, I’m just telling you that you should move forward and make a decision on this issue. And I believe that was appropriate,” he said.

The Times report cited unnamed former McCain staffers who said they had warned Mr. McCain about the lobbyist and said they took steps to keep her away from Mr. McCain.

In a statement released after Mr. McCain”s event, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller defended the paper’s story.

“On the substance, we think the story speaks for itself. On the timing, our policy is, we publish stories when they are ready,” Mr. Keller said, adding that the story was checked by lawyers.

“ ’Ready’ means the facts have been nailed down to our satisfaction, the subjects have all been given a full and fair chance to respond, and the reporting has been written up with all the proper context and caveats. This story was no exception.” he said.

The newspaper used the anecdote as an opportunity to examine Mr. McCain’s record, including accusations nearly two decades ago that he and four other senators used their influence on behalf of Charles Keating, a McCain supporter who ran a savings and loan.

Mr. McCain, standing with his wife, Cindy, at his side at this morning’s press conference, also denied he had a romantic relationship with the lobbyist, and said the Times piece was “not true.”

Eight years ago, Mr. Davis defended Mr. McCain in a Jan. 6, 2000 Washington Post story “McCain Defends FCC Letter; GOP Hopeful Urged Action on Donor’s TV Station Purchase,” by Susan B. Glasser and Dan Balz.

The Post article stated: “Lanny J. Davis, a lobbyist with Patton Boggs who was the Clinton White House’s special counsel during the campaign finance scandal, agreed with the this-is-how-Washington-works defense. ‘All McCain is doing is saying you have no right to refuse to act,’ ” Davis said. “If the member of Congress with jurisdiction over the FCC doesn’t have an obligation to write that letter, that means the FCC has no oversight at all.’ ”

“Davis’s role in the lobbying battle waged over the Pittsburgh station deal was to enlist support from Democratic members of Congress, and he said his firm was responsible for three letters to the FCC —from Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Ron Klink (D-Pa.) — supporting the complicated sale of WQED’s broadcast license.”

“Several other lawmakers also wrote the FCC to endorse the plan, and both lobbyists professed to be disappointed that McCain’s missive had stopped short of advocating the sale. ‘He refused to do what Paxson wanted him to do and take a position on the merits, unlike a number of Democrats,” Mr. Davis said in the story. ‘If anything, this exemplifies Senator McCain’s refusal to do the bidding of a contributor.’ ”

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