Broadcaster Lowell "Bud" Paxson on Friday contradicted statements from Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign that the senator did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist Vicki Iseman before sending two controversial letters to the Federal Communications Commission on Paxson's behalf.
Paxson said he talked with McCain (R-Ariz.) in his Washington office several weeks before McCain wrote the 1999 letters urging a rapid decision on Paxson's quest to acquire a Pittsburgh television station.
Paxson, now retired, said Iseman helped arrange the meeting and "probably" attended.
"The woman was a professional. She was good," Paxson told the Washington Post. "She could get us meetings."
The two letters are at the center of a controversy about the senator's ties to Iseman, a partner at the lobbying firm of Alcalde & Fay.
The McCain campaign said Thursday that the senator had not met with Paxson or Iseman on the matter.
"No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay personally asked Sen. McCain to send a letter to the FCC regarding this proceeding," the campaign said in a statement.
But Paxson said Friday, "I remember going there to meet with him." He recalled that he told McCain: "You're head of the Commerce Committee. The FCC is not doing its job. I would love for you to write a letter."
McCain attorney Robert S. Bennett played down the contradiction between the campaign's written answer and Paxson's recollection.
"We understood that [McCain] did not speak directly with [Paxson]. Now it appears he did speak to him. What is the difference?" Bennett said. "McCain has never denied that Paxson asked for assistance from his office.
"It doesn't seem relevant whether the request got to him through Paxson or the staff. His letters to the FCC concerning the matter urged the commission to make up its mind. He did not ask the FCC to approve or deny the application. It's not that big a deal."
The Paxson deal has posed a persistent problem for the senator, raising questions about his dealings with lobbyists when he has assumed the role of an ethics champion and opponent of the influence of lobbyists.
The two letters he wrote to the FCC in 1999, when he was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, produced a flood of criticism and a written rebuke from the then-FCC chairman, who called McCain's intervention "highly unusual."
McCain had repeatedly used Paxson's corporate jet for his campaign and accepted campaign contributions from the broadcaster and his law firm.