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Public Broadcasting Activists Refute McCain Campaign 'Facts' on FCC Letters

Avni Patel

A public broadcasting activist is accusing Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign of lying in its statements rebutting last week's New York Times story about McCain's connections to Washington lobbyist Vicki Iseman.0227 07

After the story broke, the McCain campaign distributed a lengthy document stating that the senator's commerce committee staff "met with public broadcasting activists from the Pittsburgh area" who opposed a controversial license swap involving Iseman's client, Paxson Communications, before it sent two letters to the Federal Communication Commission urging the commissioners to vote on the issue.

"It never happened," said Jerold Starr, who led the grassroots opposition to the deal as the co-chairman of the Save Pittsburgh Public Television Campaign. "Moreover, we had no idea that McCain had any interest in our local matter."

Starr's co-chair on the campaign, Linda Wambaugh, said that she and Starr handled all the lobbying for campaign.

"We were it. Anything would have come through us," said Wambaugh. "There was absolutely no contact whatsoever -- no meetings, no phone calls, no correspondence."

The McCain response document also claimed that both Paxson's lobbyists and the public broadcasting activists "expressed to staff members their frustration that the proceeding had been before the FCC for over two years. Both parties asked the staff to contact the FCC regarding the proceeding."


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"That's a bold-faced lie," said Starr, who wrote about his experience leading the campaign in his 2000 book "Air Wars." "The longer it took, the better our chances were. It meant that the FCC was paying serious attention to our complaint."

The McCain campaign questioned how Starr would be able to remember every meeting from nine years ago, though it says its own statement was based on the recollections of the Commerce Committee staff at the time.

The McCain letters, sent on Nov. 17 and Dec. 10 of 1999, came weeks before Paxson's deal to swap licenses with religious broadcaster Cornerstone Communications was set to expire.

Angela Campbell, a Washington lawyer who represented the Pittsburgh activists, says the timing of the letters was "clearly in Paxson's interest," although the letters included a disclaimer stating that the senator took no position on the vote.

Questions have been raised about other statements contained in the McCain response to the Times story over the past few days. reported on Friday that a 2002 deposition indicated that McCain recalled discussing the Pittsburgh deal with Lowell "Bud" Paxson prior to sending the letters -- an apparent contradiction of the campaign's statement that the senator never personally discussed the matter with Paxson or his lobbyists.

Paxson told the Washington Post on Saturday that he recalled discussing the matter with McCain in the senator's office weeks before the letters were sent. Another Paxson lobbyist, Dean Goodman, later told the Associated Press that he doubted Paxson's recollection.

© 2008 ABC News

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