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Obama Ad on Lobbying Turns Past Into Present

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"John McCain's chief adviser lobbies for oil companies, even from Russia and China. His campaign manager lobbies for corporations outsourcing American jobs."

Barack Obama "It's Over" television ad

The McCain campaign has taken a lot of heat from the fact-checking community over the last week for deceptive, at times dishonest, campaign ads. But the Obama campaign is hardly immune from criticism about misleading advertising. A good example: a couple of ads that slam the Republican nominee for employing lobbyists while insisting that "it's over" for the special interests.

THE FACTS

Obama's "It's Over" ad flashes a photograph of McCain adviser Charlie Black across the screen with a voice-over claiming that he "lobbies for oil companies, even from Russia and China." Next up is a photograph of campaign manager Rick Davis with the claim that he "lobbies for corporations outsourcing American jobs."

Asked to provide support for these claims, the Obama campaign pointed to Senate records showing that Black had lobbied for a Chinese state-owned oil company, CNOOC, between July and August 2005. Senate filings show that Black lobbied for the Russian oil company Yukos in 2004. It also cited a 2004 newspaper report stating that Davis had lobbied for a telecommunications company called SBC that outsourced some jobs to India.

Excuse me, but verb tenses matter.

"Lobbies" and "lobbied" or "has lobbied" carry different meanings. I took McCain to task in May when he claimed that "we have drawn down to pre-surge levels" in Iraq. It turned out that he was speaking prematurely: The full drawdown was still a couple of months away. The McCain campaign offered the "verb tense defense" to justify the senator's claim, ridiculing the distinction between "have" and "will" as a "matter of semantics."

It is fair for the Obama campaign to draw attention to the fact that McCain is surrounded by advisers who "have lobbied" for special interests in the past. (The McCain camp points out that some of Obama's advisers are also former lobbyists.) Use of the present tense is out of bounds, however.

The McCain campaign, in the person of former lobbyist Rick Davis, issued a blanket directive on May 15 stating that "no person working for the campaign may be a registered lobbyist or foreign agent, or receive compensation for any such activity." The directive was a belated response to criticism on the role played by lobbyists, such as Black, in the campaign. Black told The Washington Post in February that he was conducting his lobbying business by phone from the McCain campaign bus, the famous "Straight Talk Express."

But that was then. Black stepped down from his position at the lobbying firm BKSH and Associates in March.

THE PINOCCHIO TEST

I awarded the McCain campaign three Pinocchios for mixing up its verb tenses over the Iraq surge in May. Consistency demands the same verdict for Barack Obama.

THREE PINOCCHIOS: Significant factual errors


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