McCain campaign struggles with new Davis controversy

MCCAIN CAMPAIGN STRUGGLES WITH NEW DAVIS CONTROVERSY…. New revelations that Freddie Mac was paying McCain campaign manager Rick Davis’ lobbying firm $15,000 a month up until last month has put the McCain gang back on its heels. The available evidence suggests pretty strongly that the information McCain gave voters about his campaign’s ties to Freddie Mac was false.

Today, McCain campaign spokesperson/blogger Michael Goldfarb published a 700-word response to the news, and by any reasonable measure, the statement is a complete mess. In the very first sentence, Goldfarb says the reports charge that Davis “was paid by Freddie Mac until last month,” which Goldfarb insists is false. Actually, the reports charge that Davis’ lobbying firm was the one paid until last month, which is true.

Indeed, it’s almost as if Goldfarb didn’t read the article he was attacking. Davis lobbied against federal regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through the Homeownership Alliance, and once that was done, Davis asked Freddie Mac to put his firm on retainer, for $15,000 a month, for very little work. Not only does the McCain campaign’s official response not dispute this point, it doesn’t even acknowledge this central revelation.

Goldfarb does make a point of emphasizing that Davis “has never — never — been a lobbyist for either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.” That’s true. But as Jason Zengerle explained, that doesn’t make the situation any better.

[T]he NYT story doesn’t allege that Davis was a lobbyist for Freddie Mac. Rather, the NYT reports that he was a “consultant.” And that’s actually a crucial — and, in this instance, damning — distinction, since, by serving as a consultant rather than as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, Davis’s firm didn’t have to disclose its payments from Freddie Mac in federal lobbying reports (which is why we didn’t know about them until some ticked-off Fannie and Freddie folks revealed them to the Times). In other words, it looks as if Davis was almost trying to hide the fact that he was getting paid by Freddie Mac.

What’s more, Goldfarb bashes the New York Times repeatedly, neglecting to acknowledge that the Times was one of three major news outlets — Newsweek and Roll Call were the other two — to report within a few hours of each other about the latest Rick Davis revelations.

The McCain campaign went to quite a bit of trouble this morning to offer a detailed denial that doesn’t actually deny the charges at hand, and doesn’t even try to answer any of the unresolved questions, including the fact that McCain’s public statements now appear to contradict the public record on Davis’ activities.

Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer also issued a statement: “It is now clear that both John McCain and Rick Davis did not tell the truth about Davis’s continuing financial relationship with Freddie Mac, one of the actors at the center of this financial crisis. It’s troubling not only that Davis’s firm — with which he is still associated and which the McCain campaign paid directly last year — continued to be compensated by Freddie Mac until as recently as last month, but that the firm did little work and apparently was being paid simply to provide access to the McCain campaign. The question that now needs to be answered is this: did Freddie Mac or any other special interests buy access to John McCain by compensating top officials, including Rick Davis?”

Remember, the McCain campaign walked right into this one, insisting that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were largely responsible for the Wall Street crisis, and any associations between a candidate and officials at the lending companies are necessarily scandalous.

Talk about leading with one’s chin….

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.