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Post Probes Davis’ Lobbying, Consulting Income

Yet another article examining Sen. John McCain’s ties to lobbyists appears in today’s Washington Post — and this is a doozy. The Washington Post reports that some McCain campaign staffers have enjoyed a long lucrative relationship with the Arizona senator, both on and off the campaign trail. The article focuses on Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, whose friendship with the senator has been particularly beneficial. From the story:

[Davis] and his lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, have earned handsome fees representing clients who need McCain’s help in the Senate. He also has made money from a panoply of McCain-related entities, some of which have operated from the upscale riverfront office space that houses his lobbying shop.

In all, Davis, his firm and a company he helped start have earned at least $2.2 million in part through their close association with McCain, his campaign and his causes, according to a review of federal campaign, tax and lobbyist disclosure records.

Davis first worked for McCain during the 2000 presidential campaign, according to The Post. Though that bid was unsuccessful, the article states, Davis put his new ties to work — landing a particularly cushy job at an institute headed by McCain:

When McCain started the Reform Institute in 2001 to promote campaign finance reform, he turned to Davis. Though still actively lobbying, Davis pulled in $120,000 as an institute consultant in 2002.

Davis brought with him other McCain insiders, and fund-raising took off. In 2003, tax filings show, Davis earned $110,000 in fees, and in 2004 and 2005, while he served as president of the institute, his salary totaled $165,000. Tax forms said he worked five hours a week or "as needed."

So that would be an average of about $92,000 per year for, at most, a five-hour work week. But wait, there’s more:

While running the institute, Davis added several lobbying clients who needed McCain’s help.

In 2003, for instance, DHL Holdings (USA) and Airborne hired Davis to lobby the Senate to facilitate a merger. Hotly opposed by shipping giants FedEx and United Parcel Service, the merger encountered opposition from Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on the commerce committee. McCain took steps that helped Davis’s clients. He thwarted Stevens’s effort to insert language into legislation that would prohibit foreign-controlled companies such as DHL from holding certain military contracts.

Davis’s firm earned $125,000 from Airborne in 2003 and $465,000 from DHL parent company Deutsche Post World Net (USA) from 2003 to 2005, records show.

The article also notes that Davis has very publicly insisted that he "worked for almost a year without compensation, telling reporters that the sacrifice shows his dedication to the cash-strapped Arizona Republican. He also took a protracted leave from his Washington lobbying firm to distance himself from ethical questions." While on paper this may appear noble, it is difficult to reconcile his statements with the following:

In 2006, Davis helped plan McCain’s next White House run, envisioning a corporate-style campaign modeled after President Bush’s 2004 bid. But by mid-2007, fund-raising faltered. Inside the campaign, aides grumbled about expensive service contracts brokered by Davis, including one to a firm called 3eDC. It was hired to develop a Web site and coordinate Internet services.

Davis has confirmed that he owns a stake in 3eDC. Over several months, McCain’s campaign doled out payments to the firm approaching $1 million.

The 3eDC contract initially brought objections from top advisers, who argued that it smacked of self-dealing. After the summer campaign shake-up, it appeared that payments to the firm ceased.

But 3eDC resurfaced last month, days after McCain’s advisers assumed key roles at the Republican National Committee. The RNC paid the firm $20,000 in late April. Rogers said Davis did not broker the RNC deal.

So, according to The Post, Davis has taken no payment from the financially challenged campaign for his efforts, but the campaign found itself in a state of near-bankruptcy last fall in part due to lavish contracts negotiated by Davis — and one contract went to a firm in which he is invested. Even in the best possible light, that looks not so good.

Davis is not the only staffer The Post identifies as enjoying a profitable relationship with the senator:

Longtime fund-raiser Carla Eudy earned $138,434 working for McCain’s 2000 presidential bid. But she made far more — $813,000 — working for McCain’s leadership committee, the Reform Institute, and another nonprofit McCain chaired, the International Republican Institute, tax records show. Some of the money has gone to her company. Trevor Potter, McCain’s top lawyer, has brought in nearly $750,000 in fees for his law firms by working for such endeavors, as well as $949,000 in compensation over five years for the nonprofit he helped create, the Campaign Legal Center, which has defended in court the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, tax records show.

Firms run by Rebecca Donatelli, McCain’s Internet strategist in 2000, have since then done more than $700,000 in work for McCain-related endeavors, though the campaign notes that some of that money has gone to cover credit card transaction fees for money raised online.

In the aftermath of the infamous New York Times piece and last month’s "lobbyist purge," McCain has been able to deflect questions concerning his ethics and judgment. The Post story seems to add a lot more fuel to that fire. At some point, he is going to have to confront the growing body of evidence that his ethics might be less beyond reproach then he may care to admit.

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