Obama Hammers McCain on Lobbyists; McCain Fires Back on Ayers

By Jaketapper

May 18, 2008 8:36pm

"It appears that John McCain is very much a creature of Washington," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, said today in Milwaukie, Oregon, in response to news stories about the 5th lobbyist to leave McCain’s campaign amidst what has become a sort of lobbyist purge.

"And one of the things that we have said at the outset of this campaign is that if we are going to change policies, if we are going to deliver on universal healthcare or have an energy policy that over the long term could bring down gas prices, that we were going to have to change how Washington works," Obama said. "We can’t have special interests dictating what’s happening there. And that’s why I said at the beginning I wouldn’t take PAC money and I wouldn’t take money from federal lobbyists."

Obama went on: "And it does appear that over the last several weeks John McCain keeps on having problems with his top advisers being lobbyists — in some cases for foreign governments or other big interests that are doing business in Washington," the Democrat said. "That I don’t think represents the kind of change that the American people are looking for."

The McCain campaign fired back, with spokesman Tucker Bounds going after Obama for his relationship with former Weather Underground member William Ayers. Given former President Bill Clinton’s commutation of the prison sentences of two of the former members of the domestic terrorist organization, Ayers hasn’t gotten a lot of play in recent days.

But McCain clearly intends to make a campaign issue out of his and Obama’s relationship.

Bounds said that "just a few years ago when Barack Obama was beginning his career in politics he was launching it at the home of William Ayers, an unrepentant domestic terrorist who his chief strategist said Senator Obama was certainly friendly with.  If Barack Obama is going to make associations the issue, we look forward to the debate about Senator Obama’s associations and what they say about his judgment and readiness to be commander in chief."

**

The McCain Lobbyist Purge began about a week ago, after McCain’s campaign parted ways with two senior members of the team who had worked for a firm that had lobbied in the past for Burma.

Doug Goodyear was McCain’s liaison to run the GOP convention this Summer in Minnesota, but both he and Doug Davenport, the former regional McCain campaign manager for the mid-Atlantic states, last week  vamoosed because of their work for DCI Group, which once had Burma (nee Myanmar) as a client.

But as we pointed out in that May 12 blog post, Josh Gerstein of the New York Sun had noted that other McCainiacs had lobbied for other nations whose leaders may not be taking any direct flights to Valhalla come Judgment Day. Specifically, McCain campaign national finance co-chair Tom Loeffler had lobbied for Saudi Arabia and senior adviser Charlie Black had chaired the BKSH & Associates lobbying firm when it had the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which is largely state owned, as a client.

Since McCain has worked hard on campaign finance reform and has worked hard to promote himself as a reformer in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, this created some problems for him. And reportedly, the Senator was angry that this has happened. On May 15, McCain announced that campaign staffers "will be thoroughly, more thoroughly, vetted, and we’ll make sure that that is the case," and campaign manager Rick Davis announced a new "Conflict Policy":

"1.) No person working for the Campaign may be a registered lobbyist or foreign agent, or receive compensation for any such activity.

"2.) Part-time volunteers for the Campaign must disclose to the Campaign any 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, including service on policy task forces or participation in policy discussions on those subjects.  Such persons are also prohibited from lobbying Senator McCain or his Senate personal office or committee staffs during the period they are volunteering for the campaign.

"3.) No person with a McCain Campaign title or position may participate in a 527 or other independent entity that makes public communications that support or oppose any presidential candidate.

"4.) No vendor to the McCain Campaign may also be a vendor to a 527 or other independent entity that makes public communications that support or oppose any presidential candidate without a pre-approved firewall pursuant to FEC regulations.

"5.) Senator McCain has also announced that it will be his policy that anyone serving in a McCain Administration must commit not to lobby the Administration during his presidency."

One day after this memo, it was reported that Craig Shirley, on McCain’s Virginia Leadership Team, had in fact worked on an anti-Hillary Clinton 527, in direct violation of Conflict Policy rule No. 3.

Two days later, Newsweek added to what Gerstein had reported, noting that not only had Loeffler lobbied for the Saudis, he had told a reporter "at no time have I discussed my clients with John McCain" though lobbying disclosure forms indicated that Loeffler had listed a May 2006 meeting with the Saudi ambassador and McCain with the notation: "discuss US-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia relations." Moreover, Loeffler’s firm began paying $15,000 a month to Susan Nelson, one of its lobbyists, after she left the firm to become McCain’s finance director.

Sunday morning, Politico’s tireless Mike Allen reported that Loeffler resigned. Combined with the others and the sayonara of McCain campaign energy adviser Eric Burgeson, at least five McCain aides or advisers have resigned within the last few days in this Lobbyist Purge.

**

The McCain campaign is now heralding the fact that it has the most restrictive lobbying policy of any of the three candidates in the race.

Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign says it does not allow registered federal lobbyists to work on his campaign. It does not have a policy about 527 groups.

You may recall Obama used to say that lobbyists would never work in his White House. Then last December he suddenly flip-flopped on that pledge, saying instead they wouldn’t run his White House. Notably, an Obama TV ad in Iowa replayed an excerpt from his well-received speech to the Iowa Democratic party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in which he railed against lobbyists — but the ad removed the mid-sentence clause from his speech in which he said lobbyists "will not get a job in my White House."

The Obama campaign claimed they’d made the cut purely for time, though it happened to coincide with his flip-flop on that very clause.

- jpt

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