July 26, 2008

McCain and Paxson Communicaion

John "Keating Five" McCain is famous for being one of five Senators caught trying to intimidate federal commissioners responsible for enforcing the rules of the Savings and Loan industry. Charles Keating's S&L was in financial and legal trouble after making huge profits before the S&L crash in the 1980s. McCain tried to get regulators to look the other way in Keating's case.

A more recent case goes by the name Paxson Communication. In the Paxson case, there is written evidence that McCain clearly violated ex parte rules barring outside pressure on Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) decisions, like trying to influence a judge. What makes it even more improper is that McCain did this as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FCC, its chartering legislation and its budget. Being in government myself, when the Senator of the committee that approves your budget asks you to jump, you don't wait to ask "how high," you immediately jump as high as you can.

The Issue:

At issue in the Paxson case was Paxson's desire to gain commercial control over a public TV station in Pittsburg, PA. It was a small-time issue, which makes it even more suspicious that Chairman McCain would take a personal interest. The reason for his personal interest was that the now-famous Vicki Iseman was lobbying Chairman McCain on behalf of Paxson.

What McCain Did Wrong:

First, McCain took sides on an issue in favor of a private organization contrary to the public interest. Second, he did so by trying to pressure the "judges" in the case, members of the FCC. There was an issue of the clock running out on Vickie Iseman's client Paxson. McCain wrote letters directly to each FCC commissioner inquiring about their votes, and asking them to respond by a specific date. FCC Commissioner Tristani wrote McCain saying, in diplomatic terms to the man who controlled the FCC budget:

“In that letter, you requested that each commissioner advise you in writing by the close of business today whether we have acted upon these applications. Respectfully, I cannot comply with your request, in order to preserve the integrity of our processes. It is my practice not to publicly disclose whether I have voted or when I will be voting on items in restricted proceedings prior to their adoption by the full commission.”

It's not only Tristani's practice, it's the law. She knew that McCain's actions were illegal. According to Angela Campbell, director of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center, McCain's actions were formally proven to be a violation:

... on December 20th, we actually filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission’s general counsel, alleging that he had violated the rules, and we asked for them to act on it right away. They did not. However, eventually, in August of 2000, they did rule that the senator had violated the rules.

So, McCain's claims of high integrity are probably no better than any other Senator. Given his fame in the Keating Five scandal, his record is probably worse than most.


John McCain's campaign has denied the Sentor met with Paxson Communications in 1999; however, Lowell Paxson has contradicted this statement. McCain's Paxson Problem.



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