In a TV ad now playing in South Carolina, George W. Bush attacks John McCain, saying that the Arizona senator "solicits money from lobbyists with interests before his committee and pressures agencies on behalf of contributors."
But the Texas governor will have difficulty convincing voters he is any better than his Republican rival when it comes to liaisons with lobbyists. On Wednesday, Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based nonprofit, released a study that found some $2.3 million of Bush's presidential fund coming from a group of 23 Pioneers (Bush fund-raisers who have pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the campaign) who are either registered lobbyists or employ fleets of lobbyists to sway government officials.
Among those pointed out are Erle Nye, CEO of Texas Utilities, an electric utility that operates some of the worst sources of air pollution in Texas. According to a report issued in 1998 by the Lone Star Sierra Club, the amount of pollutants coming from Texas Utilities' facilities amounts to more than 210,000 tons of nitrogen oxide per year -- roughly equivalent to the pollution created by 3.8 million cars.
There's also Frederick L. Webber, the CEO and president of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents nearly 200 of America's biggest oil and petrochemical companies, including Exxon Chemicals, DuPont, W.R. Grace and BP Amoco. Several of the CMA's members were pushing Bush's voluntary air cleanup bill in Texas.
Bush's "whole political history is one where he rewards his highest donors," said Craig McDonald, the director of Texans for Public Justice. "He's no reformer. His policies in Texas have never offended the status quo business community. And those are the same people who mobilized for his presidential campaign."
Is it hypocritical for Bush to criticize McCain for taking money from lobbyists while he has so many lobbyists working for him and giving him money? Bush spokesman Scott McClellan insists it is not.
"It's not about lobbyists," McClellan said. "It's about saying one thing and doing another. Chairman McCain made this [campaign finance reform] a cornerstone of his campaign. Yet Thursday night he's having a major event in Washington where he's going to take more money from Washington special interests." McClellan went on to say that a larger portion of McCain's contributions have come from special interests than any other candidate. "There's a pattern of saying one thing and doing another," said McClellan.
Bush, who promotes himself as "a reformer with results" has employed a number of lobbyists in Austin -- sometimes drawing the ire of government watchdogs. Shortly after taking office in 1995, Bush hired Cliff Johnson, a lobbyist, to work as a senior advisor on his staff. Nine months later, Johnson quit and immediately began lobbying again on behalf of clients like Texas Utilities.
About the same time, Bush hired Dan Shelley. During the 1995 legislative session, Shelley, Bush's legislative assistant, pushed a bill that created strong incentives for the state to contract out welfare programs to private firms. Shortly after the bill passed, Shelley quit Bush's office and began lobbying for Lockheed-Martin-IMS, one of several companies that were vying for the welfare contract, which had an estimated value of $2 billion.
In 1996, reporters also raised questions about the lobbying work being done by Diane Allbaugh, the wife of Bush's then-chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh, now Bush's campaign manager. Although Diane Allbaugh had been in Austin only 18 months, she quickly landed several lucrative lobbying contracts from companies like AT&T and Texas Utilities. Despite her lack of experience, the companies were paying her about $250,000 a year.
The furor over the spate of lobbyists passing through the revolving door in Bush's office forced Allbaugh to quit lobbying. And in mid-1996, Bush also instituted a policy that prohibits his former employees from working as lobbyists for at least a year.