June 15, 2008

For several weeks, a variety of political observers, most notably ThinkProgress’ Amanda Terkel and Matt Corley, have highlighted Karl Rove’s connections to John McCain’s campaign. And for several weeks, Bush’s former chief strategist — the man the president affectionately calls “Turd Blossom” — has been arguing that there really isn’t a relationship.

Just a couple of weeks ago, George Stephanopoulos identified Rove as an “informal adviser” to McCain before an ABC News interview. Rove denied it, and when Stephanopoulos suggested that Rove offers the McCain camp advice and information, Rove would only concede to “chit chat” with the Republican presidential campaign.

Not surprisingly, there appears to be a little more to the relationship. Peter Stone writes in National Journal:

“Generally speaking, Rove’s advice [for McCain] is action-oriented and useful,” said another senior consultant to the McCain camp. “It’s always well received.” This McCain adviser noted that Rove talks periodically to [McCain’s chief political strategist, Charlie Black] and a few other top campaign aides on several key matters.

“It can be policy ideas, messaging ideas, fundraising prospects, or people who need calls from someone in the campaign.” Rove is “part of the information network that the campaign has,” this adviser said, adding that Rove talks fairly regularly to such key people as Wayne Berman, a major fundraiser for McCain; Nicolle Wallace, a communications adviser; and Steve Schmidt, a senior aide.

This isn’t necessarily a surprise, but it’s interesting for a few reasons.

One, of course, is that McCain keeps trying to position himself as different from Still-President Bush, but that’s awfully difficult under the circumstances. Not only is McCain offering Bush’s foreign and domestic policies as his own, but he’s taking advice from the guy who shaped Bush’s campaigns.

Two, there is the small matter of journalistic ethics. For reasons that defy logic, Rove has been hired to play the role of professional “journalist” for a variety of outlets, including Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek. No one seriously expects credible, independent, bias-free reporting from Rove, but no serious news outlet should be comfortable paying someone to offer commentary and analysis on a presidential campaign while simultaneously advising one of the candidates in the presidential campaign.

And three, the National Journal article also noted that Rove, when he’s not pretending to be a journalist and/or advising the McCain campaign, is also consulting with far-right campaign outfits.

[A]way from the spotlight, Rove has been … spending a considerable amount of time as an outside adviser to Freedom’s Watch, the conservative political group that is expected to spend tens of millions of dollars to help elect House GOP candidates. William Weidner, a Freedom’s Watch board member, recently told National Journal that Rove has offered strategic advice to both the group and its major financial backer, Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. Weidner, president of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which Adelson chairs, called Rove “an invaluable asset” to the group. […]

[William] Weidner [a Freedom’s Watch board member] stressed that Rove has been “very generous with his time and ideas. He gives up his time for those things he believes in.”

Two GOP strategists said they have heard that Rove has worked out a private consulting deal with Adelson; this arrangement, one strategist reported, pays Rove in the mid-six figures for giving speeches and providing assistance to Freedom’s Watch on labor union issues, a top priority of the group.

It’s noteworthy because National Journal also recently reported that Rove is “up to his eyeballs” in trying to “nurture new independent political groups” to help McCain and other Republicans on Election Day.

It’s illegal, of course, for independent groups to coordinate with campaigns. It’s interesting, then, that Freedom’s Watch and the McCain campaign just happen to be getting advice from the same person.

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