Lobbyist Ties Threaten McCain Image

John McCain has pitched himself to the American people as a reformer and an agent of change, someone equipped through years in the Senate and an air of integrity to clean up Washington politics.

But now, as the presumptive Republican nominee begins to formally shift his attention to the general election, the spotlight is on some of the people who helped get him there. Five campaign officials have had to step away from McCain's team because of lobbying entanglements that could be embarrassing to the Arizona senator.

A controversy over Washington insider influence, which McCain has made a reputation fighting against, could damage the image his campaign hopes to project of McCain as the best able to take on the "politics-as-usual" culture that poll after poll indicates voters want to see changed. On the stump, he regularly decries the influence of lobbying in politics, despite many of his top advisors' connections, or former connections, to lobbying interests.

The biggest departure came when former Congressman Tom Loeffler, the head of McCain's finance committee, resigned from the campaign over the weekend to avoid a potential conflict of interest in his representation of the government of Saudi Arabia.

Loeffler's departure followed four others in the past two weeks and seemed to be the immediate result of a new lobbying disclosure policy implemented by the campaign over the weekend.

In a memo to the staff, campaign manger Rick Davis – himself the subject of criticism for his former work with Ukraine – laid down formally that "no person working for the Campaign may be a registered lobbyist or foreign agent," and that volunteers for the campaign must disclose their status as registered lobbyists or foreign agents. "Such persons are prohibited from involvement in any Campaign policy-making on the subjects on which they are registered.… [S]uch persons are also prohibited from lobbying Senator McCain or his Senate personal [sic] office or committee staffs during the period they are volunteering for the campaign."

"We have enacted the most comprehensive and transparent policy of any presidential campaign in history and I challenge Sen. [Barack] Obama to adopt the same policy," McCain said repeatedly when asked by reporters Monday about Davis's plan.

Critics, including Obama, D-Ill., McCain's rival, had drawn attention to the controversy over the weekend, calling McCain "very much a creature of Washington" for having so many lobbyists on his staff.

"I don't think that represents the kind of change that the American people are looking for," Obama said Sunday in Oregon.

Charles Black, a veteran of every Republican presidential campaign since the 1970s, and a senior advisor to McCain's current White House bid, has also been the subject of criticism from the left.

MoveOn.org, a liberal activist group, produced a video calling for Black to be the first to leave under the campaign's new lobbyist policy for his past lobbying in favor of foreign governments.

"I was in compliance before there was a rule," Black told reporters on McCain's campaign plane Monday. "I resigned from the firm, not only severed my ties."

Black also pointed out that he is a volunteer for the campaign, and has not lobbied McCain while working on his presidential bid.

Prior to Loeffler's departure, two staffers departed the campaign when their ties to lobbying for the military junta of Myanmar – whose brutal regime has done little to aid its citizens in the wake of a catastrophic typhoon in the country – came to light.

ABC News's Justin Rood contributed reporting.

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