Saturday, May 10, 2008

Another Lobbyist Tied to McCain Forced to Quit

A lobbyist with ties to the ruling military junta of Myanmar resigned today:
The man picked by the John McCain campaign to run the 2008 Republican National Convention resigned Saturday after a report that his lobbying firm used to represent the military regime in Myanmar.

Doug Goodyear resigned as convention coordinator and issued a two sentence statement:

"Today I offered the convention my resignation so as not to become a distraction in this campaign. I continue to strongly support John McCain for president, and wish him the best of luck in this campaign."

Goodyear, chief executive of lobbying firm DCI Group, resigned a few hours after Newsweek posted a story posted online that the company was paid $348,000 in 2002 and 2003 to represent Myanmar's junta.

"We respect Mr. Goodyear's decision, and look forward to the convention in September," said Brian Rogers, a spokesman for the McCain campaign.

The McCain campaign is sensitive to the timing and the revelation of the announcement, given that the situation in Myanmar has been extremely difficult:
Cyclone Nargis left more than 60,000 people dead or missing, and the U.N. estimates that at least 1.5 million people have been severely affected. Human rights organizations and dissident groups have bitterly accused the junta of neglecting disaster victims and blocking foreign donations of relief supplies.

This is not the first time that prominent, big money lobbyists have been identified as being with Senator McCain.
His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways.

Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O' Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae.

McCain's relationship with lobbyists became an issue this week [the article is dated February 22, 2008] after it was reported that his aides asked Vicki Iseman, a telecom lobbyist, to distance herself from his 2000 presidential campaign because it would threaten McCain's reputation for independence. An angry and defiant McCain denounced the stories yesterday, declaring: "At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust."

Even before McCain finished his news conference, uber-lobbyist Black made the rounds of television networks to defend McCain against charges that he has been tainted by his relationship with a lobbyist. Black's current clients include General Motors, United Technologies, JPMorgan and AT&T.

Black said he is still being paid by his firm and does work for clients in his "spare time," recusing himself from lobbying McCain: "I not only do not lobby him [McCain], but if an issue comes up that I have a client on, I will tell him that and stay out of the discussion."

The exodus of many prominent members of Congress to enter the lobbying world has been in the news as of late.
Ex-members of Congress can double their earnings as lobbyists, paid by special interests to directly influence their former colleagues.

And guess what those former members of Congress can take with them to their big lobby jobs: their leftover campaign funds, unspent money given by donors during their election.

Ethics rules prohibit spending it for personal use... but you won't believe what ex-members of Congress are allowed to do with their campaign money: donate it as lobbyists to their former colleagues.

Lott had a whopping $1.3 million left in his reelection fund when he quit the Senate and opened his lobby firm. One of the first big clients to jump aboard was Northrop Grumman, which is lobbying to keep a $35 billion air force contract for plane re-fuelers.

Lott has dipped into his campaign chest to donate money to former colleagues, who could influence the Northrop Grumman deal, including Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Roger Wicker, who sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's also contributed to the Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell.

What Goodyear's firm did for Myanmar

Justice Department records covering agents of foreign agents that are required to register with the U.S. government show DCI signed a contract to work to "improve relations between the United States and Myanmar" and to act as the junta's public relations agent in Washington.

Newsweek said the firm drafted news releases praising Burma's efforts to curb the drug trade and denouncing claims by the Bush administration that the regime engaged in rape and other abuses.

"It was our only foreign representation, it was for a short tenure, and it was six years ago," Newsweek quoted Goodyear as saying. The magazine said Goodyear added that the junta's record in the current cyclone crisis is "reprehensible."

The Newsweek article also reported that some of Goodyear's allies worry that worry the choice of Goodyear could fuel perceptions that McCain is surrounded by lobbyists. DCI Group earned $3 million last year lobbying for ExxonMobil, General Motors and other clients, the report said.

Myanmar's human rights abuses have been well documented:
Amnesty International's key concerns include:

-The continued detention of some 700 political prisoners including at least 15 individuals sentenced to prison terms of up to nine and a half years;
An official policy of taking family members and friends as "hostages" to force others to turn themselves in;

-Deaths in detention due to severe beatings and other forms of torture;
Appalling detention conditions including the denial of adequate food, water and sanitary facilities as well as the keeping of detainees in "dog cells";

-Enforced disappearances since the crackdown, including at least 72 individuals whose whereabouts the authorities have failed to account for;
Failure by the Myanmar authorities to account for the number of people killed during the crackdown;

-Evidence of marksmen atop military trucks and bridges using live ammunition to target individual demonstrators during the crackdown resulting in the death of at least two students and the serious wounding of others;

-Ambulances being denied access to victims on the streets during September's demonstrations and private medial clinics ordered not to treat the injured.

The 2008 Republican National Convention will be held in St. Paul, Minnesota in September.

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