Washington — John McCain's chief foreign policy adviser and his business partner lobbied the senator or his staff on 49 occasions in a 3 1/2-year span while being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the government of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
The payments raise ethical questions about the intersection of Randy Scheunemann's personal financial interests and his advice to the Republican presidential candidate who is seizing on Russian aggression in Georgia as a campaign issue.
McCain warned Russian leaders Tuesday that their assault in Georgia risks "the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world."
On April 17, a month and a half after Scheunemann stopped working for Georgia, his partner signed a $200,000 agreement with the Georgian government. The deal added to an arrangement that brought in more than $800,000 to the two-man firm from 2004 to mid-2007. For the duration of the campaign, Scheunemann is taking a leave of absence from the firm.
"Scheunemann's work as a lobbyist poses valid questions about McCain's judgment in choosing someone who - and whose firm - are paid to promote the interests of other nations," said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers. "So one must ask whether McCain is getting disinterested advice, at least when the issues concern those nations."
McCain has been to Georgia three times since 1997, and "this is an issue that he has been involved with for well over a decade," said McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.
McCain's strong condemnation in recent days of Russia's military action against Georgia as "totally, absolutely unacceptable" reflects long-standing ties between McCain and hardline conservatives such as Scheunemann, an aide in the 1990s to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
Scheunemann, who also was a foreign policy adviser in McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, has for years traveled the same road as McCain in pushing for regime change in Iraq and promoting NATO membership for Georgia and other former Soviet republics.