WASHINGTON — A key advisor to John McCain lobbied on behalf of a French liquor giant that partners with the Cuban government to sell rum — and which has been embroiled in a costly and controversial trademark dispute with Miami-based Bacardi.
Lobbyist disclosure forms suggest John Green since 2001 also lobbied on behalf of several bills that seek to relax the economic embargo against Cuba — a stance contrary to McCain's support of the embargo.
Campaigning in Miami in May, the Republican presidential contender told a crowd that before he'd entertain lifting the embargo he'd press the Cuban government to release political prisoners, legalize political parties and schedule elections.
The embargo, McCain said, "must stay in place until these basic elements of democratic society are met.''
The managing director of the lobbying firm that Green co-founded, however, said in an interview that the firm did not lobby for lifting the embargo. Stewart Hall said Ogilvy Government Relations' sole interest was protecting French liquor manufacturer Pernod Ricard's right to the trademark, Havana Club.
The French company, partnering with Cubaexport, a Cuban government company, sells rum under the Havana Club name in Cuba and around the world — but not in the United States, because of the trade embargo.
For more than a decade Bacardi has fought the company for the rights to the trademark it maintains was seized by the Cuban government; Pernod maintains the former owners of the trademark let its right to the trademark lapse.
"The embargo issue, that's not our fight,'' Hall said. "îOur fight is simply to protect our client's intellectual property rights for the day that they may be allowed to sell their product. When and if that happens is not our issue.''
He said his firm listed bills that call for relaxing the embargo on disclosure forms because its push to repeal a 1998 provision that essentially granted Bacardi U.S. rights to the Havana Club name often was tucked into bills that called for lifting sanctions.
A spokesman for McCain's campaign said the candidate's position on the embargo "is clear and consistent'' and that regardless, Green holds no policymaking role in the campaign.
Green took a leave of absence from Ogilvy in March and volunteers with McCain as the chief liaison between the presidential campaign and House and Senate Republicans.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which aggressively defends the embargo, said he had not come across Green pushing to lift the embargo.
"I never encountered him advocating for lifting the embargo or travel restrictions,'' Claver-Carone said, noting that a member of Congress would likely have alerted him if Green had worked the issue.
Pernod Ricard's chief USA lobbyist, Mark Orr, told a Capitol Hill newspaper in June that the company doesn't lobby to end the embargo with Cuba, but he acknowledged Pernod would like the opportunity to sell its product in the United States.
"On the first day [the embargo is lifted], we'd like to offer you this product that you can't drink today,'' Roll quoted Orr as saying. "It's very much about future competition."