Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

McCain’s Battered Lobbyists

Public and Private Realties Differ

In the midst of a mini-purge of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) K Street-connected campaign staff and the release of guidelines for lobbyists who advise his presidential effort, the McCain campaign quietly reached out to the same crowd it was distancing itself from publicly.

At 4 p.m. Monday, campaign finance chair Susan Nelson convened a conference call with lobbyist supporters and fundraisers to assuage their bruised egos and pass along positive polling data, according to two participants in the session.

“I think they were trying to make the point that this is not an attack on lobbying or any of the people on the campaign,” said one participant in the conference call, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They want to move forward. My sense is everyone gets the joke.”

The joke is that in this presidential campaign, lobbyists have become everybody’s favorite punching bag.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has long banned contributions from federal lobbyists. And the latest shot at K Street was the McCain campaign’s “Conflict Policy,” which prohibits anyone paid to work for the campaign from being a registered lobbyist or foreign agent. Unpaid volunteers are required to fill out a form listing their clients, and may not be part of a policy committee that handles issues in which those clients may have an interest.

It also requires that any volunteers who lobby must refrain from lobbying McCain’s personal and committee offices until their volunteer work is finished.

Not every lobbyist, of course, has a sense of humor, especially when it concerns their livelihood. Or perhaps the constant drone of criticism is taking its toll.

“It’s just absurd,” said one longtime lobbyist and McCain supporter, of the new rules. “It’s clearly a freedom of speech to support whoever you want to who is running for president. As long as there is full disclosure, there shouldn’t be any challenges anywhere.”

Added a K Street McCain fundraiser: “I think what is making some people at least unhappy is this implicit attack on lobbyists as a class, as if lobbyists are inherently bad or inherently evil. Downtown has had difficulty kind of getting enthusiastic about McCain because there’s this long history of kind of castigating the lobbying community while hanging around the lobbyists.”

But most lobbyists on the McCain team were taking it in stride.

“It’s a lousy environment to be a lobbyist,” conceded one K Street source who supports McCain. “But I don’t think there’s anyone feeling bitter or upset about this decision the campaign’s made. It’s just part of the politics of this election.”

Despite the brouhaha on K Street, the campaign is moving forward on June 9 with its first major Washington, D.C., fundraiser since the rules went into effect.

A formal invite has not yet gone out, but the event will be on the roof of 101 Constitution Ave. NW. It is a tiered fundraiser, and will reach out to every echelon of McCain supporter, according to a fundraiser. Later that evening, McCain is expected to host another fundraiser in Northern Virginia.

Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas who has written extensively on lobbying and politics, called the campaigns’ stand on lobbyists disingenuous.

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