McCain-Led Group Active Abroad
Friday, October 19, 2007; 6:07 PM
WASHINGTON -- Republican John McCain can claim the most eclectic overseas portfolio among presidential candidates: He has ties to a Cambodian reality TV show, a Bolivian law-and-order guide and rock concerts in the former Soviet Union.
McCain seldom mentions his role as chairman of the International Republican Institute. But it has provided a forum to make him known to world leaders _ he addressed top European Union officials in Brussels, Belgium, last year on trans-Atlantic issues, for example _ and a way to observe firsthand the politics of other countries. It's the kind of foreign policy expertise McCain says his GOP rivals lack.
The group, funded by taxpayer and private money, is active in dozens of countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
The institute was created in 1983 during the Cold War and made the Arizona senator chairman of its board in January 1993. McCain has said U.S. foreign policy should promote democracy abroad.
"He's a big history buff, and I think he thought that it was a good idea that there be proposed in these countries an alternative to what the Soviets were offering," says institute president Lorne Craner, a former State Department assistant secretary whose father was a prisoner of war in Vietnam with McCain.
The group didn't disappear with the Soviet collapse. It gets most of its money from the U.S. government _ about $78 million in its 2006 budget year. In addition, it raised at least $1 million from companies, lobbying groups and foundations and $208,745 from individuals last year.
A who's who of corporate America chips in.
AT&T gave the IRI $200,000 last year. AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris declined to elaborate on why the international telecommunications provider wrote a big check: "AT&T contributes to a variety of charitable organizations," he said.
United Parcel Service donated $45,000. Rival shipper Federal Express gave $25,000, as did brewer Anheuser-Busch, telecom company BellSouth and the Lehman Bros. investment bank. Other givers include Coca-Cola, International Paper, the Union Pacific railroad, defense contractor Lockheed Martin and the United States Telecom Association. Chevron, the ExxonMobil Foundation and BP Corporation North America all gave last year.
The Blackwater Training Center _ part of Blackwater USA, a paramilitary security firm under investigation in the shooting deaths of 11 Iraqi civilians _ gave the institute $15,000 in each of the past two years. The institute paid Blackwater USA about $18 million last fiscal year for security overseas.