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 theeconomic embargo against Cuba — a stance contrary to McCain's support of the embargo.
Campaigning in Miami in May, the Republican presidential contender told acrowd that before he'd entertain lifting the embargo he'dpress the Cuban government to release political prisoners,legalize political parties and schedule elections.
The embargo, McCain said, "must stay in place untilthese basic elements of democratic society are met.''
The managing director of the lobbying firm that Greenco-founded, however, said in an interview that the firm didnot lobby for lifting the embargo. Stewart Hall saidOgilvy Government Relations' sole interest was protecting French liquor manufacturer Pernod Ricard's rightto the trademark, HavanaClub.
The French company, partnering with Cubaexport, aCuban government company,sells rum under the HavanaClub name in Cuba andaround the world — but notin the United States, becauseof the trade embargo.
For more than a decadeBacardi has fought the company for the rights to thetrademark it maintains wasseized by the Cuban government; Pernod maintains theformer owners of the trademark let its right to the trademark lapse.
"The embargo issue, that'snot our fight,'' Hall said. "îOurfight is simply to protect ourclient's intellectual propertyrights for the day that theymay be allowed to sell theirproduct. When and if thathappens is not our issue.''
He said his firm listed billsthat call for relaxing theembargo on disclosure formsbecause its push to repeal a1998 provision that essentiallygranted Bacardi U.S. rights tothe Havana Club name oftenwas tucked into bills thatcalled for lifting sanctions.
A spokesman for McCain'scampaign said the candidate'sposition on the embargo "isclear and consistent'' and thatregardless, Green holds nopolicymaking role in the campaign.
Green took a leave ofabsence from Ogilvy inMarch and volunteers withMcCain as the chief liaisonbetween the presidentialcampaign and House and Senate Republicans.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, adirector of the U.S.-CubaDemocracy PAC, whichaggressively defends theembargo, said he had notcome across Green pushing tolift the embargo.
"I never encountered himadvocating for lifting theembargo or travel restrictions,'' Claver-Carone said,noting that a member of Congress would likely havealerted him if Green hadworked the issue.
Pernod Ricard's chief USAlobbyist, Mark Orr, told aCapitol Hill newspaper inJune that the companydoesn't lobby to end theembargo with Cuba, but heacknowledged Pernod wouldlike the opportunity to sell itsproduct in the United States.
"On the first day [theembargo is lifted], we'd like tooffer you this product thatyou can't drink today,'' Rollquoted Orr as saying. "It'svery much about future competition."