McCain Comments Distort FCC Matter

Whatever you may think of this morning’s New York Times and Washington Post stories, they turn on whether John McCain did legislative favors for Vicki Iseman, the lobbyist with whom McCain denies having had a romantic relationship.

And McCain was keen to hit back hard on that account at his news conference this morning. When one reporter asked him about one of the key details in the Times piece — that McCain, then the chairman of the Senate commerce committee, had written a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of one of Iseman’s clients — he responded:

On the “letters” to the FCC. Interestingly, this was brought up in the year 2000 by The New York Times. I wrote a letter because the FCC, which usually makes a decision within 400 days, had gone almost 800 days. In the letter, I said I’m not telling you how to make a decision, I’m just telling you that you should move forward and make a decision on this issue. And I believe that was appropriate. And the former chairman of the FCC at the time in 2000 said that was more than an appropriate role for me to play as chairman of the oversight committee.

While it’s true that the letter did not request a particular decision (more about that below), it’s not true that the FCC chairman saw no issue with the letter.

As The Boston Globe reported way back in 2000, William Kennard, the FCC chair at the time, had immediately objected to McCain’s December 10, 1999 letter, replying four days later that it was “highly unusual” and that he was “concerned” at what effect McCain’s letter might have on the decision process.

An earlier letter from McCain on the issue in November had not brought a similar rebuke. And McCain frequently wrote letters to the FCC requesting that it act on particular issues. But the December letter was remarkable for its insistence and call for each of the five commissioners to explain why they hadn’t come to a decision.

McCain’s comments today also skirted the issue of whether Iseman had sent information to his office for help in drafting the letter, as the Times reports, and elides discussion of the letter’s effect. Iseman represented Paxson Communications, which was pushing for the FCC decision because it would have cleared the way for Paxson to buy a Pittsburgh television station. The lengthy statement out from McCain’s campaign states that no one from Iseman’s lobbying firm or Paxson “personally asked” McCain to send the letter to the FCC.

But as the Times reported way back in 2000, it was no secret on the commission what outcome McCain was seeking. And on a 3-2 vote only days after his December letter, the commission approved the deal. Opponents of the sale cried foul, pointing in particular to the $20,000 Paxson and its lobbyists had contributed to McCain.

Update: You can see the exchange of letters between McCain and Kennard here.

Later Update: The McCain camp now says McCain wasn’t referring to Kennard, who actually received the letter, but to a different former FCC chairman.

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