Candidates Vie to Be The Anti-Lobbyist
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
BILLINGS, Mont., May 19 -- Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. John McCain on Monday of running a presidential campaign bought and paid for by lobbyists and criticized the presumptive Republican nominee for waiting more than a year to address the conflicts of several key advisers.
During a speech at a high school here, Obama said voters should be concerned that "after nearly three decades in Washington, John McCain can't see or won't acknowledge what's obvious to all of us here today -- that lobbyists aren't just part of the system in Washington, they're part of the problem."
McCain's campaign shot back quickly, challenging Obama to "shed light on the long list of federal lobbyists advising him on policy issues" and accusing him of diverting attention from more serious matters.
"Every moment that Senator Obama spends attacking individual volunteers on our campaign is time he's not using to address issues of real importance in the lives of Americans," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.
Over the past week, McCain has publicly purged his ranks of several advisers who have lobbied for countries and corporations in an attempt to retain his reputation as a reformer on questions of ethics and influence in Washington. But several former lobbyists, including campaign manager Rick Davis and political strategist Charles R. Black Jr., remain as top advisers.
Obama's attacks on Monday -- and the McCain campaign's fast retort -- underscore how both candidates plan to take aim at K Street lobbyists and the influence they peddle at the White House and in Congress. The two men are essentially competing to be known as the anti-lobbyist candidate.
"Lobbyists have become a popular pi¿ata of late," said Carlos Bonilla, a Washington lobbyist who has been advising McCain on economic policy. "Everyone likes to swing at pi¿atas."
Bonilla said he disclosed his clients to the campaign and promised not to lobby McCain or his staff, as required under a new conflict-of-interest policy that covers all such campaign volunteers. The policy, put into force last week, requires all paid staff members to either quit the campaign or cease all lobbying connections.
On Sunday, the new rules ensnared McCain's top finance chief, former congressman Tom Loeffler (Tex.), who became the fifth adviser to publicly leave the campaign because of ties to lobbying or outside political groups. Former senator Phil Gramm (Tex.), another top McCain adviser, officially delisted himself as a registered lobbyist on April 18 so that he could stay with the campaign, records show.
The policy leaves in place Davis and Black, both of whom have had lucrative careers as lobbyists and campaign operatives. Black said he has retired as a partner at BKSH & Associates, a Washington lobbying firm. A spokeswoman said Davis has taken a complete leave of absence from Davis Manafort, his lobbying firm. Both are "in compliance" with McCain's new policy, the campaign said.
McCain's policy leaves the door open to lobbyists who serve as volunteers as long as they do not lobby him or his staff. Several who were contacted Monday said they are "in compliance" with the policy, including Bonilla and fundraiser Wayne Berman, a lobbyist with Ogilvy Government Relations.
Top aides said the idea is to ensure that McCain is not distracted by controversies surrounding his advisers and fundraisers.