John McCain’s lobbyist problem

McCain's campaign has had to fire four employees within just the past week, and now they're re-vetting the entire staff.

Topics: 2008 Elections, War Room, John McCain, R-Ariz.,

For a man who’s supposedly the bane of Washington lobbyists and special interests, John McCain sure has had a lot of people with those ties working for his campaign. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, is on leave from his lobbying firm, and one of his senior advisors even did lobbying work from the Straight Talk Express. And now, within just the past week, his campaign has had to fire three staffers who were also lobbyists. On Thursday, they cut ties with an unpaid advisor who had a conflict of interest because he was also consulting for an outside 527 group that is working against the Democratic candidates.

The McCain camp is now instituting measures designed to avoid future embarrassments. Davis has reportedly sent the entire staff a memo that includes a new conflict-of-interest policy and a questionnaire designed to help the campaign re-vet everyone working for it. The policy reads:

Part-time volunteers for the Campaign must disclose to the Campaign any status as registered lobbyists or foreign agents. Such persons are prohibited from involvement in any Campaign policy-making on the subjects on which they are registered, including service on policy task forces or participation in policy discussions on those subjects. Such persons are also prohibited from lobbying Senator McCain or his Senate personal office or committee staffs during the period they are volunteering for the campaign.

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According to the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder, the questionnaire asks staffers whether they’ve ever been a registered lobbyist and also to list all previous lobbying and foreign government clients. The final question is, “Please list any other potential conflict of interest (whether lobbying related or not) that you think the Campaign should be aware of. It is important for the Campaign to know at the outset of any controversial clients you or your former employers have represented to avoid future embarrassment to you or the Campaign.”

Because of his reputation, revelations about his continuing association with lobbyists could be real trouble for McCain. He’d certainly like it if voters didn’t equate him with lobbyists at all — in fact, when he gave a press conference about the New York Times story that seemed to allege he’d had a romantic relationship with one lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, earlier this year McCain wouldn’t even say the word “lobbyist.”

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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