The flap over a New York Times story alleging a possibly improper relationship between presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ) and a communications lobbyist has sent reporters to the archives, where McCain’s fingerprints have been found on FCC issues involving a block of FM CPs and a Pittsburgh television station.
According to reports, the lobbyist in question, Vicki Iseman, worked for a firm that counted many companies with business before McCain’s Senate Commerce Committee. This included Lowell "Bud" Paxson, whose Paxson Broadcasting is the predecessor of Ion Media. Paxson is said to have provided McCain with a number of free jet rides and with campaign contributions. And when Paxson had a pending acquisition of a Pittsburgh television station gummed in the works at the FCC, McCain wrote a letter asking the Commission to get on the stick and make a decision, a move which was called "highly unusual" by then FCC Chairman Bill Kennard.
Before that, McCain is said to have inserted himself into a dispute over unawarded FM allocations that were frozen in the 90s when the Commission’s old lottery system was shot down in court. Clients of lobbying firm Patton Boggs wanted an auction system put in place; NAB wanted to figure out a way to retain some form of lottery. The New York Times reports that one of McCain’s first acts upon ascending to the Commerce chair into 1997 was to bill rider to put auctions in place, a move seen as favoring large broadcast groups over small local applicants.
NYT says Patton Boggs bragged that they had "won" via successful lobbying, but a McCain opponent at the time on the particular issue, Billy Tauzin (R-LA), discounted that, saying McCain was true to his own previously staked out position and that lobbying efforts weren’t a part of his decision.
RBR/TVBR observation: Anybody who had a front row seat during the McCain reign at Commerce knows that broadcasters will be in for an interesting ride under a McCain presidency, to say the least. He is very aware of broadcast issues and seems to be at loggerheads with the NAB almost 100% of the time. The fact that the two Democrats left standing may also have some issues with NAB members may mean there are no completely safe harbors for broadcasters in this storm. The best we can hope for is to get someone in there who can figure out a way to fix this troubled economy.