McCain's Lobbyist Scandals Prompt Additional Scrutiny

UPDATE (3/18): John McCain's chief strategist Charlie Black isn't losing any sleep about his firm's involvements with some of the worst dictators and human rights abusers in the world. Responding to a MoveOn video seeking to have Black removed from McCain's campaign, the lobbyist-turned-adviser had this to say:

"I'm not ashamed of anything the firm did," McCain adviser Charlie Black says of his days as the principle in one of Washington's most influential lobbying firms. "If they want to use it to fire up the left wing, well, that's fine."

Black is referring to a campaign by liberal watchdog and political groups to pressure McCain into dumping Black, now a top McCain campaign strategist. Today, MoveOn's political action fund released a video accusing Black of lobbying "for some of the world's worst tyrants."

ORIGINAL POST: John McCain just can't get a handle on his lobbyist connections. Ben Smith at Politico reports:

John McCain's campaign asked a prominent Republican consultant, Craig Shirley, to leave his official campaign role and released a new conflict of interest policy Thursday after a Politico inquiry about Shirley's dual role consulting for the campaign and for an independent "527" group opposing the Democratic presidential candidates.

Shirley, a conservative public relations veteran, doubled as a consultant to McCain and to the group Stop Her Now, a 527 group barred from coordinating its activities with presidential campaigns. He is not currently on the McCain campaign's payroll, but would also step down from his role on McCain's Virginia Leadership Team, a McCain spokesman, Brian Rogers, said.

"If you're working for a 527 involved in the presidential race, you won't have a named role in our campaign," said Rogers.

Under the new policy, a copy of which was provided to Politico, "no person with a McCain Campaign title or position may participate in a 527 or other independent entity that makes public communications that support or oppose any presidential candidate."

Marc Ambinder confirms the new effort by the McCain camp to scrutinize its lobbyist advisers:

This morning, according to two Republicans with direct knowledge, Rick Davis, the campaign manager, e-mailed to McCain's entire staff a memo entitled "McCain Campaign Conflicts Policy" -- Effective Today" that includes a questionnaire asking about previous professional activities.

One of the questions asks: "Have you ever been a registered lobbyist at either the Federal or State level?" Another asks: "Have you ever been a registered foreign agent? A third asks staff members to list all of their previous lobbying or foreign government clients.

All staff members are required to submit the form to McCain's campaign counsel, Trevor Potter and his staff, for their review.

Employees who lie about their affiliations will be fired. The new conflicts policy prohibits campaign staffers from being "registered lobbyist or foreign agent, or receive compensation for any such activity."

Despite his reputation as a government reformer, conflicts of interest are nothing new to the McCain camp. Today USA Today is reporting on yet another land swap deal that McCain secured for a major donor which netted his supporter a profit far exceeding market value.

Sen. John McCain secured millions in federal funds for a land acquisition program that provided a windfall for an Arizona developer whose executives were major campaign donors, public records show.

McCain, who has made fighting special-interest projects a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, inserted $14.3 million in a 2003 defense bill to buy land around Luke Air Force Base in a provision sought by SunCor Development, the largest of about 50 landowners near the base. SunCor representatives, upset with a state law that restricted development around Luke, met with McCain's staff to lobby for funding, according to John Ogden, SunCor's president at the time.

The Air Force later paid SunCor $3 million for 122 acres near the base. It was the highest single land transaction of the private lots purchased by the government -- three times the county's assessed value and twice the military's estimated value. SunCor also donated another 122 acres. Alan Bunnell, a spokesman for SunCor's parent company, Pinnacle West Capital, said the donation was meant to minimize the company's tax bill and enhance the value of adjacent property it owns.

The new policy has already claimed one lobbyist who advised McCain, energy policy adviser Eric Burgeson:

McCain's former energy advisor joined the firm of Barbour Griffith & Rogers in Washington in 2006 after serving as the chief of staff at the Department of Energy. Burgeson's energy clients include Southern Company, which operates electric utilities and nuclear-power plants in the Southeast.

''Eric leads the firm's energy practice utilizing his domestic and international energy policy expertise and network of policy decision makers,'' the firm's website states.

But despite renewed scrutiny, the new policy is unlikely to to cut short the career of McCain's chief political adviser Charlie Black, who is a notorious lobbyist with connections to several unsavory dictatorships. Campaign Money Watch has penned an open letter urging the removal of three lobbyists/adivsers, including Black, who have or currently represent regimes know for committing human rights abuses. Meanwhile, MoveOn.org has published a short video of his most nefarious clients, and is seeking Black's ouster from the McCain camp.

John McCain says we're fighting in Iraq to plant "the seeds of democracy," but the firm of his "chief political adviser" Charlie Black made millions lobbying for the world's worst tyrants...

...Ferdinand Marcos, who executed thousands of his own citizens in the Philippines...

...Zaire's Mobuto, who publicly hanged his opponents and looted his country's vast mineral wealth...

...and rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, a mass murderer, who covered Angola with landmines.

Charlie Black said he didn't do anything wrong. John McCain should tell Black he did. Call John McCain and tell him to fire Charlie Black.