CNN contributor West misled on Raines' and Johnson's purported roles in Obama campaign


On CNN, Diana West claimed that former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines was among Sen. Barack Obama's "most trusted campaign advisers ... deeply implicated in the mess at Fannie and Freddie [Mac]." However, both Raines and the Obama campaign have denied that Raines is an adviser. Further, West did not note that Sen. John McCain's own "most trusted campaign advisers" have served as lobbyists for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or both.

During the September 21 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs This Week, Washington Times columnist and CNN contributor Diana West claimed that "two of [Sen. Barack Obama's] most trusted campaign advisers are deeply implicated in the mess at Fannie and Freddie. And I'm speaking of Franklin Raines and Jim Johnson. ... It is just a political fact that Senator Obama must explain." However, both Raines, a former Fannie Mae chairman and CEO, and the Obama campaign have denied that Raines is an adviser. Additionally, West did not note that McCain's own "most trusted campaign advisers" have served as lobbyists for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or both, as Media Matters for America has documented. Furthermore, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis previously served as president of the Homeownership Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group whose founding members included Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and which "defended the two companies against increased regulation," according to Politico.

Johnson, who had been selected to head Obama's vice presidential search team, resigned from the campaign on June 11.

In a September 18 blog post, Politico's Ben Smith posted denials from Raines and the Obama campaign that Raines is an adviser to Obama:

Raines said in the statement through the campaign, "I am not an advisor to Barack Obama, nor have I provided his campaign with advice on housing or economic matters."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton added an attack:

This is another flat-out lie from a dishonorable campaign that is increasingly incapable of telling the truth. Frank Raines has never advised Senator Obama about anything -- ever. And by the way, someone whose campaign manager and top advisor worked and lobbied for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shouldn't be throwing stones from his seven glass houses.

During a September 20 speech, Obama said of the purported Raines connection:

The same day my opponent attacked me for being associated with a Fannie Mae guy I've talked to for maybe 5 minutes in my entire life -- the same day he did that -- the head of the lobbying shop at Fannie Mae turned around and said, wait a minute, "when I see photographs of Senator McCain's staff, it looks to me like the team of lobbyists who used to report to me."

Mother Jones reported on September 17 that the following McCain campaign officials have lobbied for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or both: chief political adviser Charlie Black, national finance co-chairman Wayne Berman, congressional liaison John Green, Arthur Culvahouse, who reportedly headed McCain's vice-presidential search team, and William E. Timmons Sr., who reportedly "has been tapped by the McCain campaign to conduct a study in preparation for the presidential transition." According to a Media Matters search of the Senate Office of Public Records' Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, Black lobbied for Freddie Mac from 1999 to 2004; Berman for Fannie Mae from 2004 to 2008 and for Freddie Mac in 2004; Green for Fannie Mae from 2004 to 2007 and for Freddie Mac in 2003; Culvahouse for Fannie Mae in 1999, 2003, and 2004; and Timmons for Freddie Mac from 2000 to 2008.

A September 22 New York Times article -- headlined, "Loan Titans Paid McCain Adviser Nearly $2 Million" -- reported that Davis "was paid more than $30,000 a month for five years as president of an advocacy group set up by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defend them against stricter regulations, current and former officials say." From the article:

But last week the McCain campaign stepped up a running battle of guilt by association when it began broadcasting commercials trying to link Mr. Obama directly to the government bailout of the mortgage giants this month by charging that he takes advice from Fannie Mae's former chief executive, Franklin Raines, an assertion both Mr. Raines and the Obama campaign dispute.

Incensed by the advertisements, several current and former executives of the companies came forward to discuss the role that Rick Davis, Mr. McCain's campaign manager and longtime adviser, played in helping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac beat back regulatory challenges when he served as president of their advocacy group, the Homeownership Alliance, formed in the summer of 2000. Some who came forward were Democrats, but Republicans, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed their descriptions.

"The value that he brought to the relationship was the closeness to Senator McCain and the possibility that Senator McCain was going to run for president again," said Robert McCarson, a former spokesman for Fannie Mae, who said that while he worked there from 2000 to 2002, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac together paid Mr. Davis's firm $35,000 a month. Mr. Davis "didn't really do anything," Mr. McCarson, a Democrat, said.

From the September 21 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs This Week:

KITTY PILGRIM (guest host): What's your reaction to Senator McCain's approach to this crisis?

HANK SHEINKOPF (Democratic strategist): It's called center-right populism. He's got everything in place. He's trying to create an inspirational moment. He's found the enemy. He's -- needs the -- he's got Palin for religion, and he has got an economic drum to beat. Welcome to America. Not much has changed since the 19th century.

PILGRIM: All right. Diana?

WEST: Well, you know, I think that it's -- it is political, of course, but I think that a lot of what this crisis will ultimately shake out, because I think the polls, as we can -- more closely resemble EKG measurements than actual political sentiment. But Senator Obama's -- two of his most trusted campaign advisers are deeply implicated in the mess at Fannie and Freddie. And I'm speaking of Franklin Raines and Jim Johnson.

I don't know how Senator Obama distances himself from that, and I think that's exactly a very important point politically for Senator McCain to hit home. But it doesn't strike me as simply a matter of partisan politicking. It's just a political fact that Senator Obama must explain.

PILGRIM: Well, Senator Obama also came out and, in fairness, let's put up his comments that he had to say about a plan for his -- for the financial markets.

OBAMA [video clip]: We cannot only have a plan for Wall Street. We must also help Main Street. I'm glad that our government's moving so quickly in addressing the crisis that threatens some of our biggest banks and corporations, but a similar crisis has threatened families, workers, and homeowners for months and months, and Washington has done far too little to help.

PILGRIM: Now, this seems more like standard political campaign talk. He did not have as many specifics about what he would do. In fact, he actually took a step back and said, "Now is the time for the Treasury and the president to take the lead on this" and offered very few specifics. Errol, thoughts on this?

ERROL LOUIS (New York Daily News columnist): Yeah. I -- well, I mean, that -- yeah, that reflects the reality that he doesn't have a perfect, or even decent, information about what to do. This is not a time to start, you know, trying to make policy for one of the biggest crises that hit the economy in a generation.

But, you know, I gotta address something that Diana said. I mean, it is true that people who are involved in the mess are close to the Obama campaign, but it's nothing nearly like what's going on, on the McCain side, where he's -- lobbyists for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, all of the -- AIG -- all of the groups that are being bailed out are right there at the top of this campaign, and he himself, as longtime chair of the Commerce Committee, was part of the oversight mechanism in Washington.

So, if it's broken, you know, the guy who was there for years and years and years, I think, has to take at least as much, if not more, blame for what has gone on.

Diana West
Lou Dobbs This Week
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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