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The Scandal Lobby

It’s nice to have friends in high places. It’s not so nice to see those friends unfairly pilloried by journalists intent on collecting another scalp.

First it was Obama adviser Samantha Power, who was accused by some on the right of being anti-Israel on the basis of evidence that was, to put it charitably, ambiguous. Now it’s John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who is being labeled as-gasp-a lobbyist. This heinous charge has been hauled out in the New York Times, USA Today, and now the Wall Street Journal.

There is a difference, of course: While Power is not really anti-Israel, Scheunemann really has been a lobbyist. The question is: What’s wrong with that?

All of the reporters who have written about the issue try to insinuate that something nefarious is going on without actually coming out and saying what it is. Today’s Wall Street Journal article by Mary Jacoby is a classic in the genre known in Washington as “appearance of a conflict of interest”-i.e., not an actual conflict but something that can be made to look that way through selective juxtaposition of acts.

Thus Jacoby notes that Randy has lobbied on behalf of Romania, Latvia, Georgia, and Macedonia while those countries were seeking admission to NATO. She then notes that McCain has been in favor of admitting all those countries to NATO. The inference readers are supposed to draw is that there is something untoward going on here. Only in the final line of the article do we get the evidence that dispels these insinuations:

“Sen. McCain’s been for NATO enlargement since the mid-1990s,” said Mr. Rogers, the McCain spokesman. “His record speaks for itself.”

In other words, McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy issues) was in favor of NATO expansion long before Randy was lobbying on those issues. Anyone who knows either McCain or Scheunemann would laugh at the notion that their support for the embattled democracies of Eastern and Southern Europe is the result of payoffs from those countries.

Randy represents those emerging democracies because he believes in expanding freedom-something that he has pushed for in other contexts without earning any money for it. He was, for instance, one of the founders of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Randy has been pushing for NATO expansion since the mid-1990s when he was not a lobbyist at all but Senator Bob Dole’s chief foreign policy adviser.

Unlike some other lobbyists, he doesn’t represent dictatorial or anti-American regimes. And he is so dedicated to McCain that he spent the period between June of 2007 and March of 2008 working as his chief foreign policy adviser for free. Now he has given up his lobbying income to work on the campaign for a fraction of what he was earning.

Again: What is it exactly that he has done wrong? USA Today writes:

While not illegal or a breach of Senate ethics rules, Scheunemann’s lobbying of McCain’s staff as he was advising the campaign comes to light a week after McCain announced a new policy to avoid such conflicts. The new conflict-of-interest policy prohibits campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents and bans part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients. Campaign spokesman Jill Hazelbaker said the ethics policy is not retroactive.

So what Randy has done is not illegal. It’s also not unethical under Senate ethics rules or the more stringent ethics rules of the McCain campaign. Now that the candidate has banned lobbyists from the campaign, Scheunemann has stopped lobbying. Which suggests that there is no story here.

Or perhaps that the real story is that reporters are so desperate to bring McCain down a notch that they will try to concoct nonexistent scandals about his aides. The fact that, outside of Mickey Kaus’s blog, there is a notable lack of outrage over Senator Obama picking a major lobbyist to lead his vice presidential search effort only makes the artificiality of this non-scandal all the more apparent.



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