Feb. 1, 2008 -- Top fundraisers for the presidential campaigns of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain lobby on behalf of foreign governments and sometimes helped their clients gain access to the senators, according to a Center for Investigative Reporting and ABCNews.com review of records.
Campaign finance experts and political scholars say the connection between foreign lobbying and presidential campaign fundraising deserves scrutiny because of concerns as to whether the lobbyist will have undue influence if his candidate reaches the Oval Office.
The review found that six Clinton "Hillraisers," designated donors who have raised at least $100,000 for the senator's presidential campaign, are registered with the Justice Department to lobby for foreign governments.
Two of Clinton's top moneymen, John Merrigan and Matthew "Mac" Bernstein, are part of a lobbying team hired by the rulers of Dubai to defend against a U.S.-based lawsuit alleging that the rulers had enslaved young boys to race camels. The lobbyists' firm, DLA Piper, arranged a meeting with Clinton and three other senators last year on behalf of Dubai, according to filings. Dubai paid the firm $3.7 million for a year's work.
Merrigan and Bernstein also signed, on behalf of the firm, a $100,000-per-month contract with the Turkish government last March to prevent "the introduction, debate and passage of legislation and other U.S. government action that harms Turkey's interests or image." The lobbying effort opposed a resolution, co-sponsored by Clinton, that would call the World War I era massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a genocide.
The firm scored dozens of meetings with members of Congress and their staffs over the course of six months, including an August conference with Clinton's Senate staff regarding "U.S.-Turkey relations," according to filings. Two months later, Clinton acknowledged to the Boston Globe editorial board that she had concerns about the resolution, saying "the adamant expression of real dismay and outrage by this Turkish government has to be factored into this."
Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said, in a written response to the CIR and ABCNews.com findings, that Clinton "has been a longstanding supporter of the Armenian Genocide Resolution" and has "made clear that she supports adoption of this legislation." Singer also said the campaign was unable to confirm the DLA Piper meetings.
Merrigan and Bernstein have reportedly pledged to raise at least $250,000 for Clinton's presidential campaign. Merrigan, who is also registered to lobby for Ethiopia and the Mexican Senate, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars more for the Democratic party. DLA Piper employees represent the largest bloc of contributors to Clinton's presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington non-profit group that tracks political money and influence.
Neither Merrigan nor Bernstein responded to repeated calls or e-mails requesting comment.
Campaign finance experts say that presidential fundraisers are highly sought after by countries seeking to improve their access to Washington officials. "You always want someone who is well-connected, someone who is going to be greeted with open arms," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "Someone who has worked with the Clintons -- Bill and Hillary -- over a number of years is worth their weight in gold."
Another Clinton fundraiser, former Sen. Robert Torricelli, who lobbies for Taiwan, personally arranged a meeting in 2006 between the senator and a Taiwan official to discuss trade. Singer described the former senator as a "colleague and friend" of Sen. Clinton's and that her office "attempts to meet with all who request meetings on matters important to public policy."
Other Clinton fundraisers include Timothy Chorba, a Bill Clinton Georgetown classmate and Clinton-appointed ambassador to Singapore, who is registered to represent China, and Gordon Giffin, the Clinton-era U.S. ambassador to Canada, who now lobbies on behalf of three Canadian provinces. A spokesman for Chorba's firm, Patton Boggs, said that Chorba's activities on behalf of China do not constitute lobbying, but that Chorba is just a lawyer and adviser to the client.
Professor James A.Thurber of American University says that in the case of foreign lobbying, scrutiny is "even more critical because it has such an impact on relations between nations." If the candidate is elected, "the fundraiser is certainly going to be welcome in the White House, more so than people they don't know, to pitch for a specific interest," says Thurber, who heads the university's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.
On his quest for the White House, McCain has five fundraisers who lobby for foreign interests. His campaign co-chair and chief moneyman, Thomas Loeffler, has lobbied for Saudi Arabia for five years. Loeffler personally arranged a meeting between Sen. McCain and Prince Turki al-Faisal, then-Saudi ambassador to the United States, in May of 2006. Loeffler, a former congressman and longtime Republican fundraiser, chairs the firm that helped the Saudi kingdom join the World Trade Organization, fight anti-Saudi legislation and improve its image in the war on terrorism. The Saudi royals paid Loeffler's firm more than $11 million in two years for its efforts on their behalf.
Loeffler did not respond to repeated calls requesting comment, but when asked about his work for Saudi Arabia last April, Loeffler told the National Journal that he would handle "all of the work" of his firm while working on the McCain campaign. He also said, "I do not find a conflict of interest at this time," according to the magazine.
McCain's fundraisers also include lobbyists for Peru, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq and Dubai.
One of them, Peter Madigan, works for the government of Colombia to promote a U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement. His firm is also paid to "seek appropriations for the Government of Colombia," according to filings. The firm's lobbyists have distributed papers defending Colombian President Alvaro Uribe against allegations of ties to paramilitary groups, and promoting the controversial anti-drug program "Plan Colombia" as achieving "strengthening of human rights."
Madigan, who also lobbies on behalf of Dubai, serves with Sen. McCain on the board of the International Republican Institute, which seeks to advance freedom worldwide.
CIR and ABCNews.com examined records in the Justice Department's foreign agent registration database against a list of more than 2,000 presidential fundraisers identified by the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Public Citizen.
As for McCain's Republican rivals, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney counts one fundraiser who lobbies for Morocco. The review did not find any lobbyists for foreign countries among known fundraisers for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Clinton's rival, Sen. Barack Obama, has a policy banning registered lobbyists from raising money for his campaign.
Will Evans is a reporter for the Center for Investigative Reporting.