Top McCain Adviser Has Found Success Mixing Money, Politics

Sen. John McCain confers with campaign manager Richard H. Davis on a flight from Phoenix to Washington. Davis's relationship with the senator has been lucrative for him.
Sen. John McCain confers with campaign manager Richard H. Davis on a flight from Phoenix to Washington. Davis's relationship with the senator has been lucrative for him. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
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By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 26, 2008

As Sen. John McCain's top presidential campaign adviser, Richard H. "Rick" Davis has worked for almost a year without compensation, telling reporters that the sacrifice shows his dedication to the cash-strapped Arizona Republican. He also took a protracted leave from his Washington lobbying firm to distance himself from ethical questions.

But in the eight years since Davis first managed a McCain campaign, his relationship with the senator has been a lucrative commodity. He and his lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, have earned handsome fees representing clients who need McCain's help in the Senate. He also has made money from a panoply of McCain-related entities, some of which have operated from the upscale riverfront office space that houses his lobbying shop.

In all, Davis, his firm and a company he helped start have earned at least $2.2 million in part through their close association with McCain, his campaign and his causes, according to a review of federal campaign, tax and lobbyist disclosure records.

Their relationship is typical of the symbiotic ties that have come to define the culture of the nation's capital. Last summer, Davis provided McCain free tactical advice that rescued his White House bid and helped him clinch the GOP nomination. In the political offseason, Davis turned the relationship into a business asset.

Davis is not the only McCain adviser to earn substantial income from McCain-affiliated endeavors both during and after his campaigns. Longtime fundraiser Carla Eudy earned $138,434 working for McCain's 2000 presidential bid. But she made far more -- $813,000 -- working for McCain's leadership committee, the Reform Institute, and another nonprofit McCain chaired, the International Republican Institute, tax records show. Some of the money has gone to her company. Trevor Potter, McCain's top lawyer, has brought in nearly $750,000 in fees for his law firms by working for such endeavors, as well as $949,000 in compensation over five years for the nonprofit he helped create, the Campaign Legal Center, which has defended in court the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, tax records show.

Firms run by Rebecca Donatelli, McCain's Internet strategist in 2000, have since then done more than $700,000 in work for McCain-related endeavors, though the campaign notes that some of that money has gone to cover credit card transaction fees for money raised online.

Davis declined repeated requests for an interview. In response to detailed questions, the campaign issued a brief statement. "During this campaign, Mr. Davis has not received a single penny from any company doing business with the McCain campaign," it said. Through the campaign, Eudy, Potter and Donatelli declined to comment.

While the three serve on McCain's advisory team, Davis, 49, is now the candidate's campaign manager and point man on ethics. He wrote the conflict policy that spurred resignations a few weeks ago among McCain advisers, who also had roles as Washington lobbyists or were affiliated with outside groups.

Several of those who have left were foreign lobbyists, and since then some advocacy groups have called for Davis's ouster because his lobbying firm in 2006 represented a Ukrainian politician opposed by the U.S. government. "Why would a candidate for president hire a lobbyist whose firm worked against our national interests?" asked David Donnelly, director of Campaign Money Watch.

McCain has stood by Davis and promoted him after bitter infighting last summer. McCain's friend Scott Reed, who managed Robert J. Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, with Davis as a deputy, said Davis deserves credit for "being the manager of the most amazing political comeback in modern political history."

A Navy brat who left the University of Alabama for the campaign trail, Davis once said his father warned him, "You can't make any money from doing politics." Davis did not listen. After learning the campaign business in Alabama and Mississippi, he became national field director for the College Republican National Committee during Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential bid.

He left the Reagan White House to work with longtime lobbyist Paul Manafort, a job that later evolved into a partnership. In their political work, Davis served as Manafort's deputy in orchestrating the 1996 Republican National Convention. Both joined Dole's presidential team.

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