Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign has lost a national finance co-chairman and four other staffers and advisors, as the candidate tries to refurbish his image as a Washington reformer.
Tom Loeffler resigned over the weekend, after campaign manager Rick Davis imposed a new policy that required registered lobbyists and registered foreign agents to terminate their registrations if they wanted to remain active in the campaign.
Loeffler was one of McCain's top advisors, and raised more than $250,000, according to the campaign. A former congressman, he's now a registered lobbyist and registered foreign agent with his own well-established firm in Washington. His current clients include the Embassy of Saudi Arabia and EADS North America, a subsidiary of the European aircraft manufacturer, which is now defending a new Air Force contract for mid-air refueling tankers.
Davis— himself a one-time lobbyist — issued the "McCain Campaign Conflict Policy" on Thursday. At that point, veteran political consultant Craig Shirley had just been asked to leave the McCain campaign after the publication Politico pointed out that he also worked for an anti-Obama group called Stop Him Now. Shirley had performed paid and unpaid work for the campaign ; working for both groups raised questions because the law forbids coordination between the campaign and independent political groups.
As the policy was issued, the campaign cut loose an energy policy advisor, Eric Burgeson; the Miami Herald had noted that he lobbies for several energy corporations. Earlier, a regional campaign manager, Doug Davenport, left McCain, as did the director of the national convention, Doug Goodyear. Both came from the DCI Group, a lobby firm previously employed by the military rulers of Myanmar. Those rulers are now blocking aid to cyclone victims in their country.
The new policy states that the campaign won't employ any registered lobbyists or registered foreign agents; unpaid advisors won't do any campaign work on subjects that they lobby on; and no one in the campaign can work with any independent group. That ban covers so-called 527 organizations such as Stop Him Now.
It's not clear, however, that the policy will settle the issue.
David Donnelly, director of Campaign Money Watch, a group that counted 115 lobbyists either working for McCain or raising money for him, sees a big loophole in the new policy. His prime example: Charlie Black, a long-time top-dollar lobbyist who quit his firm to be McCain's senior advisor.
"Black can go back to his firm after this campaign is over," said Donnelly. "He will have an open door at the White House. He will know all the top advisers and he will trade in on those relationships to make a killing."
Ken Gross, a Washington lawyer who specializes in campaign finance and ethics, notes that McCain has set himself a tough standard to meet: trying to find untainted professionals in a city where it seems nearly everyone with any expertise also has a client list.
"It's really difficult to be purer than the driven snow at the same time that you're tapping people with substantive expertise," Gross says. "The net effect of all this may be more cosmetic than substantive."