Lobbyist Hired by Freddie Mac to Work on McCain Is Now Senator's Aide

By Matthew Mosk and David S. Hilzenrath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 3, 2008

When mortgage giant Freddie Mac feared several years ago that Sen. John McCain was too outspoken on the issue of executive pay, it pinpointed a lobbyist known for his closeness to McCain and hired him to work with the senator.

Mark Buse, a longtime McCain adviser who had been staff director of the Senate commerce committee, signed on as a Freddie Mac lobbyist, and his firm, ML Strategies, earned $460,000 in lobbying fees in late 2003 and 2004, according to lobbying disclosures. Buse is now chief of staff at McCain's Senate office.

Buse was one of many strategic hires made by Freddie Mac in its efforts to sew up support and manage opponents on Capitol Hill, a push that peaked in 2004 with the retention of 34 outside lobbying firms. Over the past decade, Freddie spent more than $95 million on lobbying, while its sister company, Fannie Mae, spent more than $79 million.

The connections have become a hot political issue for both Republicans and Democrats in the presidential campaign. McCain has highlighted Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's association with high-level figures from Fannie Mae, including former chairman and chief executive James Johnson, who once led Obama's vice presidential search.

McCain's own entanglements include his campaign manager, Rick Davis, who earned more than $2 million as president of an advocacy group that defended Fannie and Freddie against stricter regulation. Davis's lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, also received monthly payments of $15,000 from Freddie Mac as recently as August.

The story of how Buse came to get involved is emblematic of the interconnections among Fannie, Freddie and the lawmakers whose support was critical for their business.

McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said the hiring of Buse did not influence McCain. "I think the reality is that John McCain takes positions, you know, based on what he believes is in the public interest, period," Rogers said. "If these folks thought they were getting something out of John McCain . . . it's not based in fact."

Buse was providing Freddie Mac "with advice on how to deal with issues of concern to them, you know, both in the commerce committee and in the Senate at large," Rogers said. Through the McCain spokesman, Buse declined to comment.

Freddie Mac's interest in Buse dates back to mid-2003. That May, McCain presided over a hearing on executive pay at which he condemned "a disconnect between CEO pay and performance at many of America's corporations" and said that "these kinds of excesses are making a lot of Americans angry."

Freddie Mac became a target of criticism the following month when the company announced it had fired its president and forced out two other top executives. Soon Freddie Mac revealed that fired president David W. Glenn would get stock options worth nearly $6 million. Leland C. Brendsel, who was forced to retire as chief executive after 21 years at the company, walked away with compensation worth $24 million.

Concern over the golden parachutes sparked calls in Congress for tougher oversight. McCain told a newspaper in August 2003 that he planned to hold hearings on executive compensation oversight and on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"Senator McCain was talking about limiting executive compensation, and Buse was retained to nip that in the bud," said a former lobbyist who insisted on anonymity because of continuing relationships with the companies.

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