Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More Pandering From President McCain

Whoring for telecoms; that's leadership:

If you've been wondering where all the telecom lobbyists went to lick their wounds after the House rejected retroactive immunity for wiretapping, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says it's found a bunch of them smack dab in the middle of John McCain's presidential campaign organization.
The group suggested Friday that the swell of current and former telecom lobbyists in the McCain camp might have something to do with the candidate's recent reversal on the legality of warrantless wiretapping. His most recent position "reads a lot like the talking points that a telecom lobbyist might employ," writes EFF senior staff attorney Kurt Opsahl.
McCain has long supported amnesty for telecoms who cooperated with Bush's warrantless domestic spying, but until recently questioned the legality of the program. After zig-zagging on the issue over the last few weeks, he eventually settled on a position nearly identical to President Bush's -- that presidential war-making powers trump the law when it comes to warrantless wiretapping.
That position further bolsters the phone companies' arguments for amnesty, since they could argue that they only helped out in a completely lawful surveillance.
The EFF is suing AT&T for its alleged cooperation in warrantless spying, in one of about 40 privacy lawsuits stemming from the surveillance program. EFF looked at the lobbyists who worked on a bill that would have given those companies immunity. Among the lobbyist connections the EFF found:
Charlie Black, a top McCain political adviser, worked for lobbying firm BKSH until March of this year. AT&T paid the firm $120,000 for the first three months of 2008, in part to lobby for the FISA amendments. Black was listed as one of AT&T's lobbyists.
The influential Wayne Berman, one of McCain's national finance co-chairs, works for Ogilvy, a prestigious lobbying firm which represents AT&T on FISA. Berman was listed in the first quarter of 2008 as having lobbied for the company.
John Green, also from Oglivy, lobbied on wiretap bills and amnesty for AT&T. He now reportedly works as a full-time liaison to Congress for the McCain campaign.
Dan Coats, a member of the McCain's Justice Advisory Committee, formerly lobbies for Sprint on FISA reform.
When asked about the ties, McCain's campaign declined to comment, though did say the senator would be providing comment on the matter to cable news channels Friday afternoon. But no remarks seemed to have been carried by the networks.
In remarks to reporters Friday, McCain called the legality of the program "ambiguous," but did not want to dwell on it, according to MSNBC.
Patrick Hynes, the campaign's online outreach coordinator, repeatedly declined to explain why McCain's position on warrantless wiretapping has changed, finally stating that McCain's "position on this issue has been consistent," despite stories from the conservative National Review Online, The New York Times and the liberal online magazine Salon to the contrary.
Reporter Charlie Savage -- who as a Boston Globe reporter pressed presidential contenders about their view of executive power in the fall -- added to the controversy Friday with a front page New York Times story.
Savage noted the discrepancy in what McCain said to him in December, and what his campaign told the National Review Online last Monday.
McCain oversees the telecom industry in Congress as a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.
The McCain campaign's apparent embrace of the Bush administration's legal rationale for evading court scrutiny of U.S.-based wiretaps has given fodder to Democrats' attempts to tie McCain to the unpopular president.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) poked at the issue on cable news Friday, while Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware) issued his own written statement.
"In 1978, I helped draft the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which made clear the exclusive legal steps the President must take in order to conduct national security surveillance," Biden's statement reads. "Senator McCain has now not only joined the company of President Bush -- but also President Nixon -– in taking the position that as President he would consider himself above the law."
The EFF's post is not the first time that the McCain campaigns ties to telecom lobbyists have been noted.
In March, USA Today reported that "people who lobbied for telecom companies on those issues include McCain's campaign manager, his deputy manager, his finance chief, his top unpaid political adviser and his Senate chief of staff. Telecom companies have paid the lobbying firms that employed those top five McCain advisers more than $4.4 million since 1999, lobbying records show."

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