When Lobbying for Dictators Is OK

May 14, 2008 3:20 p.m.

The McCain campaign has provided an ongoing tutorial in the subtle ethics of lobbying. For instance, you might think that a politician who professes to be abhorred by special interests would not surround himself with lobbyists. Not so. What a politician can be drowning in lobbyists — what matters is his integrity. And for that, you’ll just have to take his word.

Charlie Black, McCain’s campaign chairman and a veteran lobbyist, provides another tutorial today. Some have criticized the McCain camp for keeping Black while other McCain campaign officials have had to resign for their lobbying on behalf of Myanmar’s ruling junta. Black lobbied for plenty of shady characters, they say, including Ferdinand Marcos and Jonas Savimbi. But Black has an answer for that. He has a code:

Black said he never took on work for foreign figures “without first talking to the State Department and the White House and clearing with them that the work would be in the interest of U.S. foreign policy.”

For instance, he said, the U.S. considered Marcos an ally when his firm took on work for his government, and “when the White House pulled the plug on Marcos, we resigned the account the same day,” Black said. He said his firm was hired to help show [Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire] how to form political parties and conduct elections, and when Mobutu canceled the results of the parliamentary election, “we quit.”

This rule would surely also cover Black’s work for Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, which provided much of the dubious evidence that formed the administration’s case for war with Iraq, and the Lincoln Group, the State Department contractor that was hired to plant stories in the Iraqi press. So I guess there’s no problem with that.

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