As someone who has built his reputation as a foe of the special interests in Washington, Sen. John McCain is seeing a positive turn into a negative.
McCain, the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican Party, has come under fire recently for staffing his campaign organization with the very figures he has railed against for years lobbyists.
Trying to combat the perception of a double standard, McCain issued a policy that prohibited individuals with conflicts of interest on his campaign staff.
The new rule, the New York Times reported, requires staff members, including part-time volunteers, to complete a questionnaire that identifies ”issues and clients that could be embarrassing for the senator and the campaign.”
After McCain issued the edict, two staff members resigned, including San Antonian Tom Loeffler, the general co-chairman of the campaign, who had business ties to Saudi Arabia.
Like any politician, McCain knows perception is often more powerful than reality, and his ties to lobbyists create the suspicion that he is cozying up to the special interests he claims to oppose.
Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, seized the opportunity to condemn his Republican counterpart.
”It appears that John McCain is very much a creature of Washington,” Obama said during a campaign stop in Oregon, according to the Associated Press. ”We can't have special interests dictating what's happening there.”
The attack represents the kind of political gamesmanship that will become more common as the race progresses. Obama has lobbyists on his team, too, although he says they are unpaid volunteers. Voters may disregard the nuance, seeing special interests as special interests, regardless of whether they are on the payroll.
”We have enacted the most comprehensive and most transparent policy concerning lobbyist activities,” McCain told reporters. ”And I challenge Senator Obama to adopt a similar policy.”
The two candidates are also sparring over campaign finances. Obama raised $41 million in March, compared to only $15 million for McCain, according to Economist.com. As a result, Obama is expected to forego public financing, while McCain wants to embrace it no surprise there.
According to McCain, the problem arises with a pledge the candidates made last year. The promise was that, if one of the nominees decided to accept public financing, the other would do the same. Only one of the candidates, however, has reaffirmed that commitment McCain.
”If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election,” Obama responded in writing to a questionnaire from a public interest group in the Midwest, the New York Times reported in November.
If Obama seems to be skirting a commitment he made more than five months ago, McCain has his own problems on the campaign finance front. The Republican candidate, one of the architects of campaign finance reform legislation, is likely to accept public financing. But he also plans to rely on help from the coffers of the Republican National Committee, which is allowed to accept ”soft money” contributions with fewer restrictions than donations specifically earmarked for a candidate.
If lobbyists and financing have become issues in this campaign, it is only because the candidates have portrayed themselves as opponents of special interests. Both seem to be engaging in practices they once condemned. Some people call that politics; other people call it hypocrisy.
—San Antonio Express-News