Saturday, August 09, 2008

McCain lobbyist attacks Obama, while failing to disclose lobbying ties to Georgia

There is just so much more on this story of McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann's lobbying ties with the Georgian government, and the McCain hard-lined stance against Russia over the widening Russia-Georgia war.

First, McClatchy News gives some numbers on how much the nation of Georgia gave to Scheunemann's lobbying firm:

WASHINGTON — John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, Randall Scheunemann, lobbied for the nation of Georgia for four years, including for about a year after he joined the Republican senator's presidential campaign staff in early 2007.

Georgia has paid Scheunemann's firm, Orion Strategies, LLC, nearly $900,000 since 2004, including $200,000 for an eight-month contract that began on May 1, two weeks after McCain issued a strong statement criticizing Russia and supporting Georgia.

Scheunemann took a leave from lobbying for Orion in March, two months before McCain barred active lobbyists from serving on his staff. He's still listed as Orion's president and owner.


On April 17 of this year, McCain issued a stern statement assailing "Russia's moves to undermine Georgian sovereignty." Two weeks later, Georgia gave Orion a $200,000 contract extension.

So, Orion Strategies was paid $900,000 for contract work with the Georgian government. And I certainly find it especially interesting that Georgia paid Orion another $200,000 after McCain issued his stern statement assailing "Russia's moves to undermine Georgian sovereignty" on April 17 of this year. Now that the McCain campaign has issued what amounts to be an ultimatum against Russia in this Russian-Georgia war, how much is Georgia going to pay Scheunemann and his lobbying firm Orion Strategies?

I should also note that this McClatchy story was posted on Barack Obama's community blogsite.

This brings up a second interesting detail. When this story on Scheunemann's lobbying ties to Georgia was published, Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan noted the "appearance of a conflict of interest" between the McCain campaign's response to the Russian-Georgia conflict, and Scheunemann's ties to the Georgian government. "John McCain’s top foreign policy adviser lobbied for, and has a vested interest in, the Republic of Georgia and McCain has mirrored the position advocated by the government," Sevugan said. This certainly prompted an immediate McCain campaign response. Scheunemann responded in the same story, saying:

John McCain’s top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, defended McCain’s direct criticism of Russia in the early hours of the crisis.

"Sen. McCain is clearly willing to note who he thinks is the aggressor here,” he said, dismissing the notion that Georgia’s move into its renegade province had precipitated the crisis. "I don't think you can excuse, defend, explain or make allowance for Russian behavior because of what is going on in Georgia.”

He also criticized Obama for calling on both sides to show “restraint,” and suggested the Democrat was putting too much blame on the conflict’s clear victim.

“That's kind of like saying after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, that Kuwait and Iraq need to show restraint, or like saying in 1968 [when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia] ... that the Czechoslovaks should show restraint,” he said.

It is interesting to note that Scheunemann never disclosed to the that he was a lobbyist to the Georgian government, even as he attacks Obama for showing "restraint" during the conflict. Scheunemann conveniently ignores the fact that the Bush administration also showed "restraint" during this conflict by calling for U.S. and EU allies to launch an international mediation, and to send a U.S. envoy to the region in order to reinstate a dialog between both parties. In the story, Scheunemann "dismissed the criticism, saying he severed his ties to his firm and to his client on March 1...."

But now we come to this latest McCain response to Scheunemann's lobbying ties to the Georgian government. Again, the McCain campaign considers this an Obama attack against Scheunemann. From Talking Points Memo:

The McCain campaign is pushing back at press reports noting that his top foreign policy advisor Randy Scheuenemann has until recently worked as a lobbyist for the Georgian government, and is still a principal at his lobbying firm -- thus rendering the candidate's pronouncements on Russia's invasion of Georgia as arguably suspect.

The campaign's new line: The criticism of this apparent conflict of interest is proof that Barack Obama's campaign is "bizarrely in sync with Moscow."

Check out this statement released today by the McCain campaign:

"The Obama campaign's attacks on Randy Scheunemann are disgraceful. Mr. Scheunemann proudly represented a small democracy that is one of our closest allies in a very dangerous region. Today, many are dead and Georgia is in crisis, yet the Obama campaign has offered nothing more than cheap and petty political attacks that are echoed only by the Kremlin. The reaction of the Obama campaign to this crisis, so at odds with our democratic allies and yet so bizarrely in sync with Moscow, doesn't merely raise questions about Senator Obama's judgment--it answers them."

The reports that the statement was issued by McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.

This is just a strange McCain attack--almost flailing. If I understand it correctly, McCain is claiming that the Obama campaign "is in sync with Moscow" over the Russian-Georgia conflict because the Obama campaign raised the "appearance of a conflict of interest" between Scheunemann's lobbying ties with the Georgian government and the McCain campaign's hard-lined response to the crisis. And since the Obama campaign criticized Scheunemann's lobbying ties with the Georgian government, then the Obama campaign must be aligned with Russia, even though Obama has condemned the violence in the South Ossetia region, and has asked for Russia and Georgia to return to the negotiating table. The McCain campaign even goes as far as blaming Obama for the "many are dead" in this conflict because Obama is attacking Scheunemann, who "proudly represented a small democracy that is one of our closest allies in a very dangerous region" through his lobbying efforts. So Obama is the evil guy that killed many Georgians in this Russian-Georgian war, while Scheunemann is the American patriot for lobbying on Georgia's behalf. The illogical negativity of this latest McCain attack is just incredible. The only "cheap and petty political attacks" that are taking place here are by the McCain campaign in smearing the Obama campaign as to taking orders from the Russian government, and killing Georgian citizens in this war.

Again, the problem with the McCain campaign is that the lobbyists, again, were caught running the campaign. McCain's initial hard-lined approach against Russia in this crisis coincides with the revelations of Scheunemann's lobbying ties with Georgia as this crisis unfolds. The McCain hard-lined response against Russia is also a pro-Georgia response to this crisis. And with the press reports revealing Scheunemann's lobbying ties with Georgia, the McCain campaign does not have an adequate response to this conflict of interest between Scheunemann's lobbying ties and the McCain campaign's political response to the crisis. So we get this bizarre attack by the McCain campaign attacking Barack Obama for revealing Scheunemann's lobbying ties as an attack that is "in sync with Moscow," even though Obama has nothing to do with Scheunemann's lobbying ties.

The only thing that John McCain has left in his campaign is his negativity. And he will drag this country through the gutter if it will give him the White House.


Andrew said...

Interesting post... Speaking from a UK perspective, the fact that lobbying takes any place on the election agenda is a bit strange in itself. Do you think McCain's reputation for courting the lobbyists will actually cost him many votes?

Eric A Hopp said...

Dear Andrew:

Thank you for your comment. My apologies for being a little late on the answer. Do I think that McCain's reputation will cost him votes? I hope so. The big problem with American politics is that money is the grease in the wheels of American politics and governments. Corporations, wealthy individuals, and interest groups all give money to candidates, campaigns, and political parties. Lobbyists are the front men for these groups in telling the political candidates what legislative favors these groups want in return for their money contributions to the campaigns. This is an overly simplified example here in showing how the lobbyists work in American politics. So congressmen, and presidential candidates, will support legislation benefiting one group of lobbyists (and their clients) over another group of lobbyists (and their clients). It is the nature of our political system. And the means of determining whether you should support one candidate over another is to look at which interest group is giving money to the candidate, and how the candidate is responding to the lobbyists in that interest group. And believe me, all political candidates court lobbyists here.

But the McCain campaign has gone one step further. John McCain has placed a large number of lobbyists into his campaign. That is completely new. This brings up the question of whether the lobbyists creating policy positions for McCain based on their clients' interests, over that of the interests of the U.S. government as a whole? This is a huge conflict of interest. And I feel this conflict is going to get worst if McCain is elected into office, and the lobbyists are placed into high level government positions--it would probably make the Bush administration seem like a My Little Pony tea party. It is not the courting of the lobbyists by McCain that worries me. It is the placing of so many lobbyists in the McCain campaign that scares me. Because these lobbyists are not working for the McCain campaign out of the dearness of their hearts--they are working for their clients' political interest, and the lobbyists profit from their clients. The way to stop McCain is to link John McCain with the lobbyist working his campaign, and to link the McCain campaign issues with the lobbyists' clients, and the clients' political and legislative interests. In other words, show the conflict of interest between the lobbyists' work on the McCain campaign, and their clients' interest. Hopefully that will cost enough votes to keep McCain out of office.