Special interests and lobbyists are perennial topics for political campaigns, and Sen. Barack Obama has made them a repeated target in his attacks on Sen. John McCain.
"Ten years ago, John McCain offered a bill that said he would ban a candidate from paying registered lobbyists," Obama said. "He did this because he said that having lobbyists on your campaign was a conflict of interest. This is what he said 10 years ago. Well, I'll tell you John McCain then would be pretty disappointed with John McCain now, because he hired some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington to run his campaign. And when he was called on it, his top lobbyist had the nerve to say that the American people won't care about this."
(We checked the statement about McCain hiring "some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington to run his campaign" and ruled it True. Also, we ruled it True that McCain's top lobbyist did have "the nerve to say that the American people won't care about this.")
We delved into legislative history and found that McCain did introduce a bill, in 1996 and again in 1997, to ban lobbyists from being paid by political campaigns. The Lobbying Conflict of Interest Elimination Act said that "a candidate and the candidate's authorized committees shall not make disbursements for any services rendered by any individual during any period if such individual was required to register for such period as a lobbyist."
McCain made remarks recorded in the Congressional Record about the bill on Jan. 22, 1997: "Registered lobbyists who work for campaigns as fundraisers clearly represent a conflict of interest. When a campaign employs an individual who also lobbies that member, the perception of undue and unfair influence is raised. This legislation would stop such practices."
The bill never made it out of committee.
It was part of a flurry of campaign finance reform legislation proposed in the aftermath of the 1996 campaign for president, during which Bill Clinton raised large amounts of "soft money," the unregulated gifts to political parties from individuals, corporations and unions. At least 57 pieces of legislation were filed in the spring of 1997, according to news reports from the time.
One of those pieces of legislation included comprehensive reform banning soft money, sponsored by McCain and Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin. The McCain-Feingold bill didn't succeed that year, but in 2002 it did pass and was signed into law by President Bush as the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act. Though considered landmark legislation, it did not address lobbyists working for campaigns.
Obama's description of McCain's legislation from a decade ago is accurate. We rule his statement True. For more on the other aspects of Obama's attack, see our story here.