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It still remains to be seen whether yesterday’s New York Times piece will be the last word on John McCain’s relationship with Vicki Iseman. For now, the Times quoted anonymous aides saying that they’d suspected there was an affair ongoing; McCain denies that there was.

But remember that the Times piece ran under the memorably lame headline, “For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk.” There’s a broader point there. Set aside the issue of the nature of his relationship with Iseman, and you have the undeniable conflict of McCain, the chest-beating reformer, being so undeniably close to lobbyists. That, many have pointed out, is the real story. The man who’s absurdly proclaimed that “I’m the only one the special interests don’t give any money to” is surrounded by lobbyists.

And The Washington Post, a day after it ran its own Iseman story on page one, goes with that story on today’s front page under the concise headline, “The Anti-Lobbyist, Advised by Lobbyists.”

The story involves quite a roll call:

— “His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications.”

— “His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington’s lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways.”

— “Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O’ Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae.”

— “McCain recently hired Mark Buse to be his Senate chief of staff. Buse led the Commerce Committee staff in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and was until last fall a lobbyist for ML Strategies, representing eBay, Goldman Sachs Group, Cablevision, Tenneco and Novartis Pharmaceuticals.”

— “McCain’s top fundraising official is former congressman Tom Loeffler (R-Tex.), who heads a lobbying law firm called the Loeffler Group. He has counseled the Saudis as well as Southwest Airlines, AT&T, Toyota and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.”

McCain, of course, insists that he’s incorruptible. During yesterday’s press conference, he proclaimed “I’ve never done any favors for anybody — lobbyist or special interest group — that’s a clear, 24-year record.” Maybe he just keeps all those lobbyists around to test his fortitude.

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