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McCain Disputed On 1999 Meeting
"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."
Iseman's connections to McCain have come into question this week after a longtime associate of McCain's said that he had asked Iseman to distance herself from McCain and his 2000 presidential campaign to protect McCain's reputation for independence from special interests.
McCain acknowledged during a news conference on Thursday that Iseman was a friend, but he denied doing anything improper for her or her telecommunications clients.
Paxson defended Iseman as a complete professional and said she was at her best when she worked on the Pittsburgh deal. He said they turned to McCain often when they ran into interference at the FCC, but Paxson added that McCain did not always agree with him. In three other major issues, Paxson said, McCain took the opposing viewpoint.
Paxson had used Alcalde & Fay as his lobbying firm in the 1980s when he founded and ran the Home Shopping Network, an enterprise that he later sold. In the mid-1990s, when he launched a plan to create a new national network, he stayed with Alcalde & Fay. In the early 1990s, when Iseman joined the firm, she became Paxson Communications' chief lobbyist, Paxson said. Paxson, now known as ION Media Networks, has paid Alcalde & Fay more than $1 million dollars since 1998.
Paxson saw no particular significance in the meeting with McCain before his penning the FCC letters. "Vicki Iseman, probably between myself and [Paxson Communications President] Dean Goodman at that time, took us in to see a thousand senators and congressmen," Paxson said. "She was our lobbyist. She was there and helped."
Paxson said Iseman had a personal interest in the Pittsburgh transaction because she grew up in the area.
Iseman, 40, was raised on a farm outside of Homer City, Pa., and attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1990 with a degree in elementary education.
She went to Washington and got a job as a receptionist at Alcalde & Fay in Northern Virginia. Within a year, she had risen to special assistant to the firm's president. She was later promoted to lobbyist and was made the youngest partner in the firm in the late 1990s. She specialized in telecom issues, and one of her primary clients was Florida-based Paxson, which was rapidly purchasing a series of broadcast stations to create a national network.
Statements from McCain's office said Iseman met only with staff and indicated that a staff member was involved in drafting and sending the letter. Thursday's statement went to lengths to say why McCain could not have met with Paxson.
"Senator McCain was actively engaged in a presidential campaign in 1999-2000, and according to his calendar, the last day he conducted business in the Senate was November 8, 1999, and was frequently absent from the Senate prior to that," the statement said. "Between November 22, 1999 and Christmas, the Senator did not return to the Senate for any substantive meetings as he was involved in a national book tour and a presidential campaign."
But according to Paxson, the issue at hand when he met with McCain in his office in the fall of 1999 was the acquisition of a television station. Paxson had purchased 60 non-network broadcast television stations across the country, most of them UHF stations that were less desirable than the VHF stations typically favored by networks.