Monday, May 19, 2008

A Fifth Top Aide to McCain Resigns

A Fifth Top Aide to McCain Resigns

By Michael D. Shear

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Finance co-chairman's lobbying ties are cited.

Tom Loeffler, the national finance co-chairman for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, resigned yesterday because of his lobbying ties, a campaign adviser said.

He 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.

"The campaign over the last week or so obviously had a perception problem with regards with this whole business of lobbyists and their work," spokesman Brian Rogers said. "This is really all about setting a policy so that we can just get through that perception problem and the issues that come up with regards to lobbyists affiliated with the campaign and move on."

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.

McCain has steadfastly defended Black and Davis. "Charlie Black and Rick Davis are not in the lobbying business; they've been out of that business," he told reporters. "Charlie Black has been involved in every presidential campaign going back to President Reagan's first campaign. He has severed his connections with the lobbying group that he was with. Rick Davis has not been involved in any lobbying for years."

Asked whether he is concerned about the departures while campaigning in West Virginia and Kentucky, McCain shrugged it off, saying that the creation of the new conflict-of-interest policy should solve the problem. But McCain's Democratic rivals and their allies have jumped to exploit his troubles.

The liberal group MoveOn.org released an ad last week calling on McCain to dismiss Black. The ad accuses Black of representing "the world's worst tyrants" and urges viewers to call McCain's campaign demanding his departure.

Black did not return e-mails or a voice mail left on his mobile phone.

The pressure on McCain has intensified amid concerns about people connected to the campaign lobbying on behalf of Burma's military government, and the involvement with outside political groups that are not supposed to coordinate with a nominee's official campaign.

Regional campaign manager Doug Davenport and Republican convention chief Doug Goodyear departed after acknowledging having represented Burma. Eric Burgeson, who lobbies the federal government on energy issues, left Thursday. GOP consultant Craig Shirley parted ways with the campaign because of his ties to http://www.stophernow.com, a site created to target Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) that is now aimed at Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

When asked in Milwaukie, Ore., about the latest McCain campaign resignations, Obama said: "It appears that John McCain is very much a creature of Washington.

"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," Obama said. "That, I don't think, represents the kind of change the American people are looking for."

Despite Obama's pledge not to take lobbyist money, he has several former lobbyists advising him, including deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand, who was a lobbyist for an environmental group. Spokesman Hari Sevugan said Obama lets lobbyists advise him but not take paid staff positions.

Loeffler, a former congressman from Texas, is a close friend of McCain's and took over the campaign's fundraising last summer. He did not respond to e-mails or a message left on his office voice mail yesterday.

Newsweek reported that his firm, the Loeffler Group, had collected $15 million from Saudi Arabia and millions more from other foreign governments. He is listed as chairman and senior partner at the firm.

Rogers declined to comment about Loeffler or to say whether other aides are likely to resign. Davis and Black have not given any indication they intend to leave.

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