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Lobbyist Black defends McCain on lobbyist issue

By A. James Memmott

February 24, 2008 at 10:15am

Faced with questions this past week about his dealings with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, Sen. John McCain had another lobbyist speak in his defense.

“Neither Sen. McCain nor the campaign will dignify false rumors and gossip by responding to them,” Charles R. Black Jr., McCain’s chief political adviser, told The Washington Post Thursday. “John McCain has never done favors for anyone, not lobbyists or any special interest.”

More than one media outlet pointed out the irony of Black’s serving as a point man on the lobbyist issue, as Black himself is a high-powered, well-connected Washington lobbyist.

The chairman of BKSH & Associates, a lobbying firm, he has represented Fortune 500 companies and other businesses for years. At the same time, he’s been a key Republican operative.

To some observers, Black is the perfect example of a practice McCain has deplored. The Lobbying and Ethics Reform section on McCain’s official website contains these words about the senator:

“He has fought the ‘revolving door’ by which lawmakers and other influential officials leave their posts and become lobbyists for the special interests they have aided.”

Black, 60, a graduate of American University’s Law School, has never been elected to public office. But he was a senior adviser to presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He has also managed several campaigns for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

And he was an adviser to senators Bob Dole and Jesse Helms. Black has also been the political director of the Republican National Committee.

“I’ve spent a fair amount of my life as a lobbyist,” Black told the Post, “but I’ve spent a majority of my adult life running Republican political campaigns.”

Black told the paper that right now he’s juggling his work with BKSH and his work for McCain, often making work calls from McCain’s Straight Talk Express bus.

He added that if McCain were to ask him to do more during the general election, he would cut back on his work for the firm. He also said he does not lobby McCain on behalf of his clients.

Black’s firm has lobbyists with connections to both political parties. R. Scott Pastrick, BKSH’s CEO and president, served in the Carter administration and in leadership positions for the national Democratic Party.

In 2003, Black also reached across the aisle to help form Civitas Group llc, a homeland security, in a joint venture with Stonebridge International LLC, a consulting firm.

Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, the co-founder and co-chairman of Stonebridge, served as national security adviser during the Clinton administration. He is an unofficial adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

A Post story Friday reported that Black is one of several lobbyists who play key roles in McCain’s campaign.

The campaign manager, Rick Davis, is the co-founder of Davis, Manafort & Freedman, a lobbying firm that has represented Verizon, GTECH and SBC Telecommunications.

Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to McCain who was the spokesman for the 2004 Bush re-election campaign, has worked as a lobbyist, as has another McCain senior adviser, Mark McKinnon.

The look at the lobbying background of McCain’s advisers came in the wake of a New York Times story released Wednesday on the paper’s website.

The story reports that McCain staffers were concerned in 2000, when he was also running for president, about the senator’s relationships with Iseman, a lobbyist for telecommunications companies.

After the publication of the story, McCain said he did not have a romantic relationship with Iseman. “I’m very disappointed in The New York Times piece. It’s not true,” McCain said.

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