In a conference call with reporters today, John McCain's lawyer John Dowd claimed that the Keating Five ethics investigation into McCain and four other senators was a "political smear job."
That seems to put him at odds with what McCain has claimed over the years. In fact, in 1999, McCain told a hometown reporter, "The appearance of it was wrong. It's a wrong appearance when a group of senators appear in a meeting with a group of regulators, because it conveys the impression of undue and improper influence. And it was the wrong thing to do."
McCain has often referred to the Keating Five scandal as the defining moment of his career - a moment in which he became a reformer. But the recent twist of historical fact by his lawyer undercuts what McCain has insisted for years - that he learned a lesson from the Keating Five scandal.
If that lesson was to fight for reforming the campaign finance system, it's a lesson he left behind years ago. McCain used to be the lead author of a bill to fix the presidential public financing system back in 2003, but he's refused to cosponsor it since then. He used to call the Arizona Clean Elections public financing law a national model, but now he says he opposed reform for federal offices.
If that lesson was that appearances matter, then he ought to have a look around his campaign office. His campaign is run, staffed, advised, and funded with the help of some of Washington's most successful - and infamous - lobbyists. From lobbyist Rick Davis, his campaign manager, who lobbied for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and received secret payments from Freddie for a no-show job, to lobbyist Charlie Black, his senior advisor, who has received payments from some of the most vile dictators in the past several decades, McCain's campaign has some of the worst "optics" of any presidential campaign in recent memory.
The Keating Five connections are very troubling for what they mean today - both on economic philosophy and on McCain's willingness to get cozy with special interests. Here's Campaign Money Watch's ad making that case: