In a speech before 15,000 people in Tampa on May 21, 2008, Sen. Barack Obama said that it was time to get away from "special interest-dominated politics in Washington." He criticized Sen. John McCain for hiring some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington to run his presidential campaign.
"And when called on it," Obama said, "his top lobbyist actually had the nerve to say, 'The American people won't care about this.' I think the American people do care about it."
Obama didn't say who he was talking about, and his campaign did not respond to clarify.
But we think Obama was referring to comments McCain campaign senior adviser Charlie Black made aboard McCain's campaign plane on May 19.
Several days prior, the McCain campaign had issued a "conflict policy," which prohibits anyone paid to work for the campaign from being a registered lobbyist. Unpaid volunteers can be lobbyists, but they must list their clients and can't serve on policy committees that deal with issues in which those clients may have an interest.
The policy came on the heels of the departure of several high-level campaign officials after embarrassing disclosures about their current or former lobbying activities.
Black is himself a former lobbyist (the Washington Post described him as "longtime uber lobbyist"), but he retired from his lobbying firm in March to work full time for the campaign.
According to accounts from NBC News and the New York Times, as reporters peppered Black with questions about the debate over former lobbyists working for the campaign, Black responded, "This is complete inside-the-Beltway nonsense."
NBC News' Carrie Dann recounted the interview with Black as follows:
"Asked today if questions about potential conflicts of interest might be affecting the choices of average American voters, Black responded bluntly: "Hell, no." He was careful to say that Sen. McCain is committed to maintaining the integrity of the campaign — hence his commitment to the re-vetting process. But, Black added, 'I do not believe that average voters out there care.'"
Sure sounds like Black was saying he doesn't think the American people care about this issue. We rate Obama's statement True.