McCain to Campaign Staffers: No Lobbying After weeks of criticism and some embarrassing episodes, John McCain's campaign has tightened its standards for lobbyists who work on the campaign: they can't do both. Despite his public reputation as a maverick, McCain's campaign is populated with lobbyists and Washington consultants.
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McCain to Campaign Staffers: No Lobbying

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McCain to Campaign Staffers: No Lobbying

McCain to Campaign Staffers: No Lobbying

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Now, to the U.S. presidential contests. Republican John McCain's campaign has shed four advisers this month and it has created new internal rules meant to avoid further embarrassing conflicts of interest in the White House bid of a senator who built his reputation on issues of reform and integrity.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Veteran political consultant Craig Shirley had performed paid and unpaid work for the McCain campaign. He was asked to leave late last week when the publication Politico pointed out that he also worked for an anti-Obama group called Stop Him Now. Working for both raised questions because the law forbids coordination between the campaign and independent political groups.

The campaign also cut loose an energy policy advisor after the Miami Herald noted that he lobbies for several energy corporations. There have been other awkward moments. A regional campaign manager left and so did the director of the national convention after it was reported that both worked for a lobby firm that had been employed by the military rulers of Myanmar. Those rulers are now blocking aid to cyclone victims in their country.

On Thursday, McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis - himself a onetime lobbyist - issued a new policy. Davis said the campaign won't employ any registered lobbyists, or any 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.

There are other restrictions too. McCain said he needed to fix the problem. But he's been under criticism for months over just these kinds of questions, and it's not clear that the new policy will settle the issue.

David Donnelly is the director of Campaign Money Watch, a group that counts 115 lobbyists who are either working for McCain or raising money for him. Donnelly 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.

Mr. DAVID DONNELLY (Director, Campaign Money Watch): Black can go back to his firm after this campaign is over. 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. Gross says public sensitivities have been heightened by the scandal involving former Republican lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, a scandal brought to light largely through the efforts of John McCain. Now, Gross says, McCain is in a bind.

Mr. KEN GROSS (Lawyers): It's really difficult to be purer than the driven snow at the same time that you're tapping people with substantive expertise. The net effect of all is perhaps more cosmetic than it is substantive.

OVERBY: But if it's any consolation, McCain has company. Democrat Hillary Clinton's top adviser, Mark Penn was advising a foreign client on one side of a trade side of a trade issue while advising Clinton on the other side. When that came out, Penn was demoted.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

HANSEN: And remember to go to our political blog, NPR.org/SundaySoapbox. There you can listen to an audio post by Joshua Levy about a new voter initiative by Barack Obama. It's called Vote for Change.

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