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McCain Lobbyist Controversy Intensifies, Obama Piles On

When the McCain quietly acknowledged on Saturday that Tom Loeffler, the national finance co-chairman of the presidential campaign, had resigned over

When the McCain quietly acknowledged on Saturday that Tom Loeffler, the national finance co-chairman of the presidential campaign, had resigned over his lobbying ties, advisors probably hoped it would go by largely unnoticed. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff ran with the story, and blogs picked up on it, but would five key campaign resignations in a week become a major headache for the McCain gang?

It sure looks like it. The Washington Post ran a front-page item this morning, with a headline the campaign won’t like at all: “A Fifth Top Aide To McCain Resigns; Finance Co-Chairman’s Lobbying Ties Are Cited.”

[Loeffler] is the fifth person to sever ties with the campaign amid a growing concern over whether lobbyists have too great an influence over the Republican nominee. Last week, campaign manager Rick Davis issued a new policy that requires all campaign personnel to either resign or sever ties with lobbying firms or outside political groups. […]

McCain has built his reputation in Congress on fighting special interests and the lobbying culture, but he has been criticized for months about the number of lobbyists serving in key positions in his campaign. Until recently, his top political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., was the head of a Washington lobbying firm. Black retired in March from BKSH & Associates, the firm he helped found, to stay with the campaign. Davis ran a lobbying firm for several years but has said he is on leave from it.

Black, in particular, remains in the cross hairs of McCain’s critics. Campaign Money Watch, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington, yesterday praised Loeffler’s departure but renewed its call for Black’s departure. The group has launched a Web site, http://www.firethelobbyists.com, to urge McCain to rid his campaign of their influence. Loeffler’s lobbying for Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments was revealed over the weekend.

This follows up on developments the weekend, when we learned there have been five resignations in eight days within the McCain camp, and the fact that Black’s client list will continue to dog the campaign.

It’s especially helpful that Barack Obama is helping elevate this controversy, taking advantage of the opportunity.

From the campaign trail yesterday in Oregon:

“It appears that John McCain is very much a creature of Washington and one of the things that we’ve said from the outset of this campaign is that if we’re gonna change policies, if we’re gonna deliver on universal health care or have an energy policy that over the long term can bring down gas prices that we were gonna have to change how Washington works,” Obama told reporters Sunday at an ice cream shop in Milwaukie, Ore. “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. 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 that I don’t think represents the kind of change that the American people are looking for.”

The McCain campaign responded with a strange attack:

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.

Hmm. McCain’s high-priced lobbyists are running his campaign, despite their ties to authoritarian dictatorships. William Ayers has no role in the Obama campaign whatsoever, and has no ties to authoritarian dictatorships. McCain knew about his lobbyist buddies’ client work, but put them on the payroll anyway. Obama is probably familiar with Ayers’ background, but has no formal relationship with the guy, and certainly never paid him for his political advice.

There is, in other words, no reasonable comparison here.

That said, I certainly understand why the McCain campaign is starting to feel antsy. McCain benefits from a public perception that he’s a “reformer” who disdains the influence and access given to high-priced DC lobbyists. Now, people are starting to get a peek behind the curtain, finding a candidate who’s surrounded himself with these same high-priced DC lobbyists, many of whom worked for some of the world’s most unsavory thugs. And now it’s on the front page of a major daily.

With the pressure picking up on Charles Black, this may still get worse for the McCain campaign.

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