There were a couple of weeks in May that were rather embarrassing for the McCain campaign. The presumptive Republican nominee had developed a reputati
August 13, 2008

There were a couple of weeks in May that were rather embarrassing for the McCain campaign. The presumptive Republican nominee had developed a reputation as a politician who had little use for high-priced DC lobbyists, but it quickly became obvious that his entire campaign operation was being run by … high-priced DC lobbyists. In one eight-day stretch, McCain had to fire five lobbyists from key campaign roles because of their lobbying clients.

And that was before Randy Scheunemann was added to the mix. He may very well prove to be the most problematic of them all.

John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser and his business partner lobbied the senator or his staff on 49 occasions in a 3 1/2-year span while being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the government of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

The payments raise ethical questions about the intersection of Randy Scheunemann’s personal financial interests and his advice to the Republican presidential candidate who is seizing on Russian aggression in Georgia as a campaign issue.

McCain warned Russian leaders Tuesday that their assault in Georgia risks “the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world.”

On April 17, a month and a half after Scheunemann stopped working for Georgia, his partner signed a $200,000 agreement with the Georgian government. The deal added to an arrangement that brought in more than $800,000 to the two-man firm from 2004 to mid-2007. For the duration of the campaign, Scheunemann is taking a leave of absence from the firm.

“Scheunemann’s work as a lobbyist poses valid questions about McCain’s judgment in choosing someone who — and whose firm — are paid to promote the interests of other nations,” New York University law professor Stephen Gillers told the AP. “So one must ask whether McCain is getting disinterested advice, at least when the issues concern those nations.”

This is pretty messy. On April 17, the day that Scheunemann’s firm was signing a lucrative deal with the Georgian government, Scheunemann also prepped John McCain for a phone call with the Georgian president and helped McCain with a public statement of support for Georgia.

It’s fair to say the line between Scheunemann’s lobbying and Scheunemann’s role atop McCain’s foreign policy shop were more than a little blurred.

The WaPo’s piece on this today paints a damaging picture.

At the time of McCain’s call, Scheunemann had formally ceased his own lobbying work for Georgia, according to federal disclosure reports. But he was still part of Orion Strategies, which had only two lobbyists, himself and Mike Mitchell.

Scheunemann remained with the firm for another month, until May 15, when the McCain campaign imposed a tough new anti-lobbyist policy and he was required to separate himself from the company. […]

For months while McCain’s presidential campaign was gearing up, Scheunemann held dual roles, advising the candidate on foreign policy while working as Georgia’s lobbyist. Between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 15, 2008, the campaign paid Scheunemann nearly $70,000 to provide foreign policy advice. During the same period, the government of Georgia paid his firm $290,000 in lobbying fees.

Since 2004, Orion has collected $800,000 from the government of Georgia.

And Scheunemann may not have a role as a lobbyist for his company right now, Orion is still partly his company.

This may seem a little complicated, but it’s really not — McCain is being guided on Georgian policy by a former lobbyist for the Georgian government, while the lobbyist’s company is still employed by the Georgian government. James Thurber, a lobbying expert at American University, told the WaPo, “The question is, who is the client? Is the adviser loyal to income from a foreign client, or is he loyal to the candidate he is working for now? It’s dangerous if you’re getting advice from people who are very close to countries on one side or another of a conflict.”

Josh Marshall added: “After you read the article it’s astonishing that Scheunemann is even still with the campaign. And it just adds to the continuing mystery of how McCain preserves this image of being the scourge of lobbyists when he is almost a caricature of the kind of politician whose conduct is managed by a series of lobbyists who manage his actions on almost every point of policy.”

Complicating matters, ThinkProgress has a provocative item, raising the question of whether Scheunemann “may have used his position in the McCain campaign for his own financial benefit by advancing the interests of his former lobbying client, the Georgian government.”

McCain has made a series of spectacular mistakes in recent years, but hiring a bunch of lobbyists to run his entire campaign operation really moves the needle on the Bad-Judgment-O-Meter.

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