Critics call bus ‘Double Talk Express’

Hustling votes aboard his campaign bus, the “Straight Talk Express,” John McCain spouts clichés at every stop, promising to end “pork barrel” and the “culture of corruption” in Washington if he is elected president.

Sitting at McCain’s elbow on the bus, churning out these platitudes, is Charles Black, head of BKSH & Associates, with 42 corporate clients including Philip Morris, General Motors, JP Morgan, AT&T and United Technologies. Black is so deeply entwined with tobacco companies he is known in Washington as “Mr. Tobacco.”

“Charlie Black is a consummate Republican lobbyist,” said Andrew Wheat, research director of Texans for Public Justice, in a phone interview from his Austin office. Texans for Public Justice is a nonpartisan research group that tracks corporate influence in Texas politics and beyond.

“Given everything John McCain has said about curbing the influence of money,” Wheat said, “for him to make Black one of his closest advisers can mean only one thing: McCain has rechristened the ‘Straight Talk Express,’ the ‘Double Talk Express’.”

In his 2000 presidential election bid, Wheat added, “McCain had his butt kicked by the Republican money machine. So now he has brought that money machine aboard his bus. He is just another politician who will do anything to get elected.”

When The New York Times ran an expose on McCain’s relations with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, it was Charles Black who made the rounds of TV talk shows denouncing the Times for “tabloid journalism.”

Almost lost in the titillation were two letters McCain wrote to the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Iseman’s client, broadcaster Lowell “Bud” Paxson, urging quick approval of Paxson’s quest to buy a Pittsburgh television station in violation of FCC regulations.

The well-connected Black used BKSH & Associates to cash in on the homeland security consulting bonanza after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was a consultant to Ahmad Chalabi, the CIA-connected Iraqi whose lies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction promoted Bush’s preemptive war on Iraq. BKSH also coached Eric Prince, CEO of Blackwater USA, before he testified on his mercenary company’s massacre of scores of innocent Iraqis.
Back in the 1980s, Black, then senior partner in the Washington lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, was an adviser to Congo dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. The CIA’s man in Angola, Jonas Savimbi, paid Black $5 million. Black spearheaded the drive that repealed the Clark Amendment barring funds for CIA subversion in Angola. The Reagan administration then gave Savimbi a total of $300 million to sustain UNITA death squads that killed and maimed millions of Angolans.

Black’s partner in the 1980s was Lee Atwater, author of the infamous, racist “Willie Horton” attack ad that doomed Democrat Michael Dukakis’ presidential bid and put the elder George Bush in the White House.

Texans for Public Justice lists Charlie and Judy Black among George W. Bush “Pioneers,” who raised at least $100,000 each in contributions to put Bush in the White House in 2000 and again in 2004.

The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that during a recent strategy session at McCain’s rustic cabin in Arizona, everyone present “was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried.”

McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm that represents Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon are lobbyists for Dell, Land O’Lakes, UST Public Affairs and Fannie Mae. Black was at the session too.

Many if not all these lobbyists are unpaid McCain “volunteers” who keep in touch with their corporate clients via cell phones as the campaign bus cruises along.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in Ohio, charged that corporate lobbyists “have been running their business on the [McCain] campaign bus while they have been helping him.” McCain, he added, “takes their money and has put them in charge of his campaign.”

Arizona Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, a co-chair of McCain’s campaign in Arizona, was indicted on extortion, wire fraud and money laundering charges Feb. 22 for arranging an illegal swap of federal property that netted Renzi’s partner $4.5 million in profits. Renzi raked off $733,000 from the scam.

Back in 1987, McCain was one of five U.S. senators who met with federal regulators to urge them not to intervene to stop banker Charles Keating from using Lincoln Savings and Loan deposits for risky real estate investments. When Lincoln went bankrupt in 1989, it helped trigger the S&L collapse that wiped out billions in savings for millions of depositors. Keating went to jail and the careers of three of the senators were ended.

McCain, son of a U.S. Navy admiral, got off easy, offering pious promises to wage war against corruption. Now the “Keating Five” scandal, like an unwanted ghost, is hovering over McCain’s presidential bid.