Tricky Rick

NYT digs more dirt on McCain campaign manager Rick Davis

After the New York Times wrote about how John McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis had been paid some $30,000 a month for five years as president of the Homeownership Alliance, McCain explained that Davis has not been involved with the company for several years and invited the press to look into Davis’s record, while his campaign slammed the Times for being “150 percent in the tank” for Barack Obama.

Today, the Times called McCain’s bluff. Turns out that, while it is technically true that the Homeownership Alliance has not paid Davis any money recently, it is also true that Freddie Mac paid Davis’s lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, up through last month. The Times reports that its sources:

[D]id not recall Mr. Davis’s doing much substantive work for the company in return for the money, other than to speak to a political action committee of high-ranking employees in October 2006 on the approaching midterm Congressional elections. They said Mr. Davis’s firm, Davis Manafort, had been kept on the payroll because of his close ties to Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, who by 2006 was widely expected to run again for the White House.

Actually, Freddie Mac continued to pay Davis Manafort until it was taken over by the government this month, along with Fannie Mae. According to the Times:

Jill Hazelbaker, a spokeswoman for the McCain campaign, did not dispute the payments to Mr. Davis’s firm. But she said that Mr. Davis had stopped taking a salary from the firm by the end of 2006 and that his work did not affect Mr. McCain.

Well, no kidding it didn’t. Note that the problem here is not, strictly speaking, a matter of special interests having too much power over government (of either party). It seems that the McCain campaign, like so many people in America, didn’t really understand how the mortgage giants worked. By underwriting high-risk mortgages, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac gave housing loans to people with bad credit (some 70 percent of new mortgages in recent months were given by the two companies), both exacerbating the housing crisis and hurting themselves in the process. But McCain’s campaign (like Obama’s campaign, the Bush administration, most homeowners, and pretty much every member of Congress) ignored the hazardous nature of subprime mortgages, and did little to prevent the disaster.

If only Rick Davis had some influence with the mortgage company, then someone from the McCain campaign might have been paying attention. Instead what we’ve got is something weirder and very Washington: “Don’t blame me, I just cashed the checks.”

But let’s be honest about this already. Attacking the media for reporting the truth—however embarrassing that truth might be—is not just unseemly, it’s irresponsible. Did the McCain campaign think no one would figure this out?

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Daniel Luzer is web editor of the Washington Monthly.