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Team Mccain's Imperfect Selflessness

I just have to poke a little at the constantly-inflating balloon that is the "selflessness" theme in McCain's campaign. First it mostly centered around McCain's service to country as a Vietnam POW, but now it's expanded to become his campaign's fundamental rationale ("I want to be president of the United States because I believe I can inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest," he often proclaims), a theme for the GOP convention (where attendees will honor "an American Neighbor -- someone you know who epitomizes selflessness in service to a cause greater than self"), the explanation behind McCain's moves during the campaign (see the recent leak that McCain considered pledging only to serve one term, a move that one Republican breathlessly described as “the most selfless act in modern American politics"), and even his advisers' motivation ("since last July, [McCain's top aides] have been working without pay, dedicating time and talent to a campaign that, six months ago, seemed like it couldn't be helped. This is a bigger sacrifice for some of them than others," wrote Time admiringly.)

But beware hubris! When you make such a big deal of your selflessness and the selflessness of everybody attached to you, it's easier for newspapers to pump up stories like this one, A1 in today's Post:

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. ...

In 2006, Davis helped plan McCain's next White House run, envisioning a corporate-style campaign modeled after President Bush's 2004 bid. But by mid-2007, fundraising faltered. Inside the campaign, aides grumbled about expensive service contracts brokered by Davis, including one to a firm called 3eDC. It was hired to develop a Web site and coordinate Internet services. Davis has confirmed that he owns a stake in 3eDC. Over several months, McCain's campaign doled out payments to the firm approaching $1 million. ... Instances where a campaign manager hires a vendor in which he is also an investor are more unusual, he said, and the practice should raise red flags. "A campaign caught self-dealing is going to suffer public relations damage for that," [election lawyer Robert] Kelner said.

Here's Davis talking about the virtue of selflessness for the convention's "American Neighbor" competition:

--Eve Fairbanks