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An independent political group called Campaign Money Watch has begun airing a TV ad that paints Sen. John McCain as a bought-and-paid-for politician who swung a lucrative defense contract to a European company over an American competitor.
The issue is McCain's role in a highly contentious and much-publicized battle over a contract to build a fleet of air refueling tankers for the Air Force. Chicago-based Boeing has been at odds with a rival bidder, a partnership between U.S.-based Northrop Grumman and European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), the parent company of Airbus.
To the surprise of many, Airbus was awarded the roughly $40-billion contract in March 2008, but the General Accounting Office upheld a protest from Boeing, concluding that the Air Force made a number of errors in the bidding process. The contract will now be re-bid.
What's interesting about this attack is that McCain's role in this particular defense project has long been seen as one of taxpayer hero. The whole reason there was a competitive bid for a contract to build the tankers is because McCain led a charge to scrap the Air Force's original plan, which was to lease jetliners from Boeing. As McCain made noise, government studies concluded that costs for the lease plan had been vastly underestimated. People were fired, some went to jail. It was a big scandal, and McCain has rightly claimed credit for it on the trail.
None of that background appears in the ad. The ad claims McCain's campaign has been too cozy with Airbus.
An announcer in the TV ad states: "Seven of McCain's staff and fundraisers lobbied for Airbus" and "McCain got more money from Airbus' U.S. executives than any other politician."
The ad is on target when it calls out McCain for having seven campaign staffers and fundraisers who lobbied for Airbus; and for accepting contributions from Airbus executives.
Former McCain finance chairman Thomas G. Loeffler's firm lobbied for Airbus parent company EADS. Loeffler's lobbying ties led to his departure from the McCain campaign in March. Susan E. Nelson left Loeffler's lobbying firm to be McCain's finance director. William L. Ball III, a former secretary of the Navy and frequent McCain surrogate, and John Green, who took a leave from Ogilvy Public Relations to serve as McCain's legislative liaison, also have lobbied for EADS. And three McCain fundraising bundlers — Kirk Blalock, Kirsten Chadwick and Aleix Jarvis — are with Fierce Isakowitz & Blalock, which has done lobbying work for EADS, according to campaign finance records at Opensecrets.org and Public Citizen.
As for political contributions, the ad states that "McCain got more money from Airbus' U.S. executives than any other politician."
The Center for Responsive Politics prepared a report for PolitiFact that backs that up. U.S. employees of EADS/Airbus have contributed $15,700 in this election cycle to McCain's campaign. The next highest recipient was Mark Warner, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, who has gotten $2,800. Barack Obama has gotten $2,650. Neither McCain nor Obama has gotten any money from Airbus PACs, which have spread around $123,000 to 22 congressional candidates this election cycle.
Given those numbers, we rule this claim True.
Public Campaign Action Fund, "TV Ad: the McCain File" June 9, 2008
The Hill, "Boeing blame game is played on Sen. McCain" by Roxana Tiron, March 6, 2008
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Boeing backers blame McCain for losing deal" by Eric Rosenberg, March 7, 2008
New York Times, "U.S.-Europe Team Beats Out Boeing on Big Contract" by Leslie Wayne, March 1, 2008
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Letter from McCain to Deputy Secretary, Department of Defense" Sept. 8, 2006
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Letter from McCain to Deputy Secretary, Department of Defense" Sept. 18, 2006
Blip.tv, "McCain on Airbus in Waco, Texas" March 3, 2008
Washington Post, "McCain's Role in Plane Pact Spotlights Ties to Lobbyists" by Michael D. Shear and Matthew Mosk, March 12, 2008
ABC News, "McCain Defends His Tanker Deal Inquiries" by Jim Kuhnhenn and Matthew Daly, March 11, 2008
OpenSecrets.org, "Lobbyist Profile: Thomas G. Loeffler"
Open Secrets.org, "Lobbyist Profile: William L. Ball"
Open Secrets.org, "Lobbyist Profile: John Green"
Federal Elections Commission, "Transcation Query By Individual Contributor"
Public Citizen, "Lobbyist Bundlers for the McCain Campaign"
MSNBC, "McCain Defends Role in Pentagon Process" March 11, 2008
Interview with Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, July 16, 2008
Interview with Doug Weber of center for Responsive Politics, July 17, 2008
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