Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shades of Gray: When Campaign Consultants are also Lobbyists

In Professor Thurber's chapter in the book, Shades of Gray: Perspectives on Campaign Ethics (2002, editors Candice Nelson, David Dulio and Stephen Medvic), he writes about the ethical dilemma surrounding political consultants who are both campaign advisors and lobbyists. The simplest case is of a campaign staffer who helps a candidate get elected, then goes on to lobby the now-elected official on behalf of some private interest. The former campaign staffer has unique access to the elected official, especially if he helped get them elected.

The case we are seeing play out in the McCain campaign is more complicated, since Rick Davis (McCain's campaign manager who is accused of being paid as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac until just before the bailout of Fannie and Freddie) is said to have "recused" himself from his firm's dealings with Fannie and Freddie. The ethical question here is whether Davis, as the top staff person on the McCain campaign, should have been involved with Fannie and Freddie (*especially* during the worst housing crisis and the bailout of these firms) and if he was, did he tell his boss the extent of his involvement.

Thurber's chapter, "From Campaigning to Lobbying," reviews the American League of Lobbyists Code of Ethics, and it seems pretty clear that Davis violated Article IV - "Conflicts of Interest" (since on Sunday night in a CNBC interview McCain said that Davis was no longer involved with the mortgage giants). But the funny thing is that Fannie and Freddie probably kept Davis' firm as its lobbyist BECAUSE of his connection to McCain, so the "conflict of interest" is apparently a one-way street.

This happened to a Dem consultant during the primaries: Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's top strategist, who was doing work for the government of Columbia at the same time that he was working on Clinton's campaign. This was such a conflict of interest, that he was actually helping the Columbian government advocate for something that his candidate opposed.

Is this what we should come to expect of our country's top political consultants? They can't pay their bills working just for presidential candidates, can they - since presidential campaigns only happen every 4 years? (Even though the campaigns never really stop, do they?) So we have to expect that they will have other clients besides candidates and campaigns. It seems to me that the burden here lies with the candidates as much as it does with the consultants. Candidates should expect their high-paid consultants to work only for them, not their private-interest clients, when a campaign is underway. Candidates should know about the Lobbyist Code of Ethics, and consultants should be expected to adhere to them.

What do you think?

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