There has been intense scrutiny on Sen. John McCain's relationships (both political and, perhaps, romantic) with lobbyists in recent days, following controversial storys about the topic in the New York Times and Washington Post. And, in response, the Arizona Republican has adamantly denied that he's done anything untoward.
"I've never done any favors for anybody -- lobbyist or special-interest group. That's a clear, 24-year record," he declared as far back as December, when the story of his relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman began leaking out.
Some government watchdog groups, however, are beginning to uncover political patterns that suggest otherwise. The most recent, it seems, is McCain's stance on granting telecommunication companies legal immunity for their work in helping with government surveillance.
McCain supports immunity. In fact, one week after he skipped a vote (despite being in D.C. at the time) on an economic stimulus package that included rebate checks for 20 million seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans, he scurried off the campaign trail to help pass the revamped version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
His stance, shared by the majority of the Senate, does align with a generally hawkish view on how the United States should execute the war on terror; although back when the surveillance program was exposed McCain did express doubts. But it is hard not to notice that McCain has been a huge recipient of the telecom industry's largesse.
As Think Progress notes: "According to the Center for Responsive Politics, McCain has taken nearly $1.2 million in campaign contributions from the telephone utility and telecom service industries, more than any other Senator."
Moreover, as reported in Friday's Washington Post, McCain's campaign leadership it littered with telecom lobbyists. "His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications." Meanwhile, McCain's chief political adviser, Charlie Black, has represented AT&T. Another AT&T lobbyist, Tom McKone is a bundler for McCain, too.
McCain's office did not return request for comment. On the eve of the Florida primary he did miss a vote to end debate on the Senate Intelligence Committee's FISA bill. But, since hitting the campaign trail, the Senator has generally spoken out in favor of the government's wiretapping program.
"We need it," he recently told CNN's Larry King. "We're in a new kind of environment here. The Internet, the means of telecommunications, the way that a guy like Osama bin Laden is able to communicate all over the world from some place in Pakistan and Afghanistan."