Former Paxson exec denies McCain meeting

February 23, 2008 6:37:07 PM PST
A former Paxson Communications president said Saturday he never met with John McCain about the Arizona senator writing letters to the Federal Communications Commission regarding the regulatory delay of a Pittsburgh TV station sale. Dean Goodman, who was in charge of the company's lobbying efforts in 1999, told The Associated Press he also doubts that chief executive Lowell W. "Bud" Paxson met with McCain over the issue, and said he doesn't recall such a meeting.

McCain's presidential campaign said the Arizona senator and then-chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, before sending the letters, which have drawn controversy in recent days. But Paxson told The Washington Post in a story published Saturday that he and "probably" Iseman met with McCain on the matter several weeks before the senator sent the letters.

Goodman, who left the company a year and a half ago, took issue with that account in a telephone interview from West Palm Beach, Fla.

"I never met with or discussed this with Senator McCain," Goodman said. "I don't recall Bud meeting with McCain. It would be extremely rare that there would be a meeting that I didn't attend, and I can tell you that I didn't have a meeting with McCain on this issue."

"Whether Bud discussed it with him or not, via some other mechanism, I can't rule it out," Goodman added. But, he said, "I don't think there was a meeting."

Efforts to reach Paxson and Iseman were not successful.

McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee who routinely rails against the influence of lobbyists and special interests, was forced to address suggestions Thursday in news reports that he had an inappropriate relationship with Iseman and advanced the interests of her clients, including Paxson Communications. McCain has denied he did anything improper.

Among the issues raised in The New York Times and the Post were two letters McCain wrote in late 1999 to the FCC on behalf of Florida-based Paxson Communications - which had paid Iseman as its lobbyist - urging quick consideration of a proposal to buy a television station license in Pittsburgh. At the time, Paxson was also a contributor to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign.

McCain did not urge the FCC commissioners to approve the proposal, but he asked for speedy consideration of the deal, which was pending from two years earlier. In an unusual response, then-FCC Chairman William Kennard complained that McCain's request "comes at a sensitive time in the deliberative process" and "could have procedural and substantive impacts on the commission's deliberations and, thus, on the due process rights of the parties."

The senator wrote the letters after he received more than $20,000 in contributions from the company's executives and lobbyists. Paxson also lent McCain his company's jet at least four times during 1999 for campaign travel.

McCain's campaign said Thursday that the senator had not met with Paxson or Iseman, who worked for the firm Alcalde and Fay, on the matter and that Iseman worked only with staff on the issue. "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde and Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC regarding this proceeding," the campaign said in a statement.

Still, McCain indicated in a 2002 deposition taken in litigation over the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law - and disclosed by Newsweek on Friday - that he talked to Paxson about a TV station the broadcaster wanted to buy in Pittsburgh and Paxson pressed his concern about the FCC delay.

"I said I would be glad to write a letter asking them to act," McCain testified, recounting the conversation with Paxson. "But I cannot write a letter asking them to approve or deny, because then that would be an interference in their activities."

Jill Hazelbaker, a McCain campaign spokeswoman, said Saturday in a statement, "Senator McCain does not recall directly discussing the issue with Mr. Paxson or any representative of Paxson."

The campaign said his 1999 Senate schedule does not show any meetings between McCain and Paxson or any of Paxson's representatives on this issue. The campaign said the schedule shows no meetings with Paxson that year, but shows one meeting in 1998 and one in 2000, months before and after the letters were sent.

Still, Paxson told the Post that he talked with McCain in the senator's Washington office several weeks before the Arizona Republican wrote the letters. Paxson recalled to the newspaper that his lobbyist, Iseman, probably attended the meeting in McCain's office.

"I remember going there to meet with him," Paxson told the Post. He recalled that he told McCain: "You're head of the Commerce Committee. The FCC is not doing its job. I would love for you to write a letter."