IRI’s Response to The New York Times Article “McCain’s Lobbyist-Laden Group”

Washington, DC The New York Times, in its July 28, 2008, article, ‘McCain’s Lobbyist-Laden Group,’ missed an important opportunity to provide its audience with a balanced and informed story about the work of IRI and its sister organization, the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

“Neither IRI president Lorne Craner nor anyone else at IRI has ever been asked by a donor for access – or helped in getting access – to Senator McCain. Similarly, neither Lorne Craner nor anyone else at IRI has ever been asked about Senator McCain’s stance by donors on their issues, and they have never talked to Senator McCain about issues that donors may have.

“The article claims that Senator McCain is the only sitting member of Congress to serve as IRI’s chairman.  That is incorrect. Robert J. Lagomarsino served as a member of Congress from 1974-1992 and as IRI’s chairman from 1986-1992.  The article also indicates that IRI board member Rich Williamson is a lobbyist for AT&T.  Mr. Williamson has never lobbied for AT&T.  The article states that ‘when he [Senator McCain] was elected to the Senate in 1986, Mr. McCain hired the younger Mr. Craner as his legislative assistant.’  Lorne Craner was hired by Senator McCain nearly a year before the 1986 election.

“Established in 1983, both institutes have supported democratic activists in countries like Chile, Estonia, Hungary, Indonesia, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Mexico, Mongolia, Poland, South Africa, and Ukraine.  IRI’s work has been praised by leaders such as Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Laureate and Burmese democracy leader, former Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda of Slovakia, former Prime Minister of Belgium and President of the European People’s Party Wilfried Martens, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, The Honorable Rana Al-Hajaia, a Mayor in Jordan, and Punsalmaagiin Ochirbat, the first democratically elected President of Mongolia. IRI continues to work in countries like Burma, Belarus, Cuba, Iran, and Zimbabwe.

“The story implies that IRI is nothing more than a revolving door for Republicans with a board of lobbyists with no expertise in foreign policy or politics.  Nothing could be further from the truth. While some IRI staff are Republicans, some are also Democrats and some are not members of any political party.  Many are local residents of the countries where IRI works, committed to building a better future for themselves and their fellow countrymen, and some are taking great risk in working for IRI.

The article didn’t point out that IRI’s board is a diverse mix of foreign policy experts and political experts. All of the members have a demonstrated expertise in areas vital to IRI’s work.  For example, Peter Madigan served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Treasury.  Lawrence S. Eagleburger served as Secretary of State and as U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia. Brent Scowcroft twice served as National Security Advisor.  Constance Newman served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and as Assistant Administrator for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Stephan Minikes served as U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“Some of IRI’s board members have chosen to support Senator McCain’s candidacy, just as some of NDI’s member’s have chosen to support Barack Obama’s.

The Times article also implies that IRI’s fundraising efforts are nothing more than an effort to influence Senator McCain.  Corporations with interests before the Commerce Committee contributed to IRI before, during and after Senator McCain was committee chair.  It would be all but impossible to raise corporate money other than by soliciting them, since almost every major corporation in America has interests before the Committee.  No Native American entity has ever been solicited for or contributed money to IRI, despite the fact that Senator McCain chaired the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs from 1995-97 and again from 2005-2007 – while Chairman of IRI.  Companies that support IRI have stated their desire for the kind of stable, transparent investment climate in foreign countries that only democracy could guarantee.” 

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