John McCain's national finance co-chairman has stepped down, the latest casualty of a presidential campaign eager to cauterize damage caused by its ties to lobbyists.
Former Texas Rep. Thomas G. Loeffler, one of McCain's key fundraisers, resigned in the wake of a new McCain policy on conflicts of interest that required campaign volunteers to disclose their lobbying connections
"Mr. Loeffler has resigned from his position with the campaign," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said Sunday.
Loeffler, who runs the lobbying shop The Loeffler Group, is the highest-profile departure from McCain's inner circle since a summer 2007 shake-up cost McCain his campaign manager and chief strategist.
Lobbying for Airbus' parent
Among Loeffler's clients is the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., the parent company of plane manufacturer Airbus. Northrop Grumman Corp. and EADS won a lucrative contract to provide air refueling tankers for the Air Force. McCain helped scuttle an earlier contract in 2004 that would have gone to a competitor, Boeing Co.
Loeffler's firm also has lobbied for other foreign interests and foreign governments. Newsweek reported over the weekend that Loeffler's firm was paid $15 million by Saudi Arabia. The news magazine also said Loeffler listed meeting McCain along with the Saudi ambassador to "discuss US-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia relations," even though Loeffler told a reporter last month that he had not discussed his clients with McCain.
McCain's new policy prohibits any staffer on the campaign from being a registered lobbyist or foreign agent. Part-time volunteers for the campaigns, such as Loeffler, have to disclose whether they are registered lobbyists or lobbying on behalf of foreign entities.
Under the policy, dated May 15, such volunteer advisers cannot lobby McCain or his legislative staffs during the period they serve on the campaign.
Fodder for critics
The work of lobbyists close to McCain had become fodder for critics, undermining McCain's image as a reformer who has tried to restrict the influence special interests in government.
Barack Obama, McCain's likely November opponent, was asked about the latest resignation while campaigning Sunday in Oregon.
"It appears that John McCain is very much a creature of Washington," he said. "One of the the things we've said is if we're going to changes policies ... that we were going to have to change how Washington works. We can't have special interests dictating what's happening there. 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. That, I don't think, represents the kind of change the American people are looking for."
Responding to Obama's comment, McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said: "Just a few years ago when Barack Obama was beginning his career in politics he was launching it at the home of William Ayers, an unrepentant domestic terrorist who his chief strategist said Senator Obama was certainly friendly with. If Barack Obama is going to make associations the issue, we look forward to the debate about Senator Obama's associations and what they say about his judgment and readiness to be commander in chief."
Resignation adds to several others
McCain advisers Doug Goodyear, who was to run the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., and Doug Davenport, a regional campaign director for the Mid-Atlantic states, also resigned this month. Both worked for DCI Group, a consulting firm hired to improve the image of Myanmar's military junta.
When the policy was announced last week, McCain fired energy policy adviser Eric Burgeson, who represents energy companies as a lobbyist.
The campaign also asked Craig Shirley to resign from McCain's Virginia leadership team because he was behind an independent group that has been criticizing Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama on the Internet. McCain's new policy also states that no one with a campaign title or position may participate in so-called 527 groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money for television ads not controlled by campaigns.
But the policy also underscored the fine line McCain has drawn. Several top strategists working on his campaign are lobbyists who have taken leaves of absence from their jobs to work for McCain. Among them are campaign manager Rick Davis, whose past clients have included a Russian industrialist, and Charlie Black, a high profile Washington lobbyist with domestic and foreign clients
In adopting the policy and making it public, the McCain campaign sought to stabilize the bad press he was getting and turn the tables on his most likely Democratic opponent.
"Sen. McCain has put forward the most strident policy to date," said McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker. "It now falls on Barack Obama to meet this level of transparency and disclose which lobbyists are serving as advisers to his campaign."
Obama's own ties to lobbyists
Obama has been a vocal critic of Washington lobbyists and, unlike McCain, has refused to accept contributions from federal lobbyists and from political action committees. However, he has accepted money from the corporate executives who retain lobbyists and who have special causes before Congress. He also has had unpaid advisers with federal lobbying clients. Some campaign officials previously had lobbying jobs.
Earlier this year, Obama deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand told The Associated Press the campaign has no problem with lobbyists volunteering to work, but no federal lobbyists are on the campaign's payroll and they cannot donate money or collect it from others. "We're not going to prevent people from being volunteers on this campaign," he said.
Hildebrand said he gave up federal lobbying work for an environmental group, as a condition of taking his paid staff position. According to lobbying records, Hildebrand was lobbying on behalf of climate change legislation written by McCain and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.