Monday, August 11, 2008

McCain's lobbyist culture: Georgia

What relationships could prejudice John McCain's pronouncements on the South Ossetia-based Russia/Georgia war? Again, where is the straight talk coming from? Let us see what is in the background of what McCain is saying in his loud talk. Everytime he speaks forcefully on an issue, there is, coincidentally, a conflict of interest: there are staff links or contribution links between him and the issue. (Either there is a major staff advisor that has lobbyist ties or McCain has been getting contributions from an industry, indicating a conflict of interest.) Hence, the Barack Obama campaign spokesperson Hari Sevugan says: John McCain is
"ensconced in a lobbyist culture."

Last week, we addressed McCain's connection to big oil financial contributors.

Now it is revealed today in "The Wall Street Journal" that
McCain's top foreign policy advisor
, Randy Scheunemann that was on the pay from the government of the Caucasus republic of Georgia, as a lobbyist, until March. However, this interruption in the lobbyist role does not represent a break from Georgia. In April, Scheunemann's consulting company, Orion Strategies, signed a $200,000 contract to represent the country's interest. Scheunemann argues that he is less entwined with the firm, as he is has stopped being a registered lobbyist for the company, yet one should remember that he still owns the company. This bears strong parallels to Vice President Dick Cheney's removing himself from Halliburton's daily operations, and the financial windfalls that he has enjoyed from Halliburton.

Previously, Scheunemann had been a foreign policy aide to Senator Trent Lott (Mississippi). McCain has been inappropriately sociable with Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili. "The Wall Street Journal" article, "McCain Adviser Was Lobbyist for Georgia", adds that McCain on his third trip to Georgia (2006), McCain rode around on jet skiis at the Black Sea villa with Saakashvili.

Should U.S. Senators be practicing sporting activities with foreign leaders? The coziness can lead to an impression of being too amiable and a likeliness to develop policy bias in favor of the foreign state or foreign interests.

Scheunemann's influence should be troubling for anyone, liberal or those conservatives less inclined to neoconservative international adventurism. Scheunemann has been an aggressive voice advocating for regime change. In 2002 he served as the executive director of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. He also had close ties with the Iraqi Ahmed Chalabi, dating to Chalabi's pre-invasion exile years. Other parts of Scheunemann's professional portfolio include lobbying for a range of countries --including Georgia-- that wish to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. On
The links with energy interests just keep on coming.

July 20, Scheunemann's name arose in a "Times of London" report of the dismissal of the George W. Bush lobbyist Stephen Payne.
(Payne had been dismissed after offering to bribe White House officials with a $250,000 contribution to the Bush Presidential Library.) Payne said that Scheunemann was “working with me on my payroll for five of the last eight years.” (Scheunemann worked for the Azerbaijan-based Caspian Alliance in 2005. The Caspian Alliance is a subsidiary of Payne's Worldwide Strategic Energy.) For more discussion of the McCain-Scheunemann-Payne-foreign interest links, see Lindsay Beyerstein's July 22 piece, "McCain campaign continues to obscure the record on Scheunemann and Payne."

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