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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.
YouTube, "Obama Criticizes McCain on Lobbyists" from May 21 speech in Tampa
New York Times, "Top Aide to McCain Defends Lobbying Work" by Michael Luo, May 19, 2008
MSNBC, "Adviser Calls Lobbyist Scrutiny 'Nonsense'" by Carrie Dann, May, 19, 2008
Media Matters, "CNN, First Read repeated McCain adviser's false claims about campaign manager's lobbying history" on May 20, 2008
New York Times, "McCain Finds a Thorny Path in Ethics Effort" by Barry Meier and Kate Zernike, May 20, 2008
Washington Post, "McCain Adviser's Work As Lobbyist Criticized" by Michael D. Shear and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, May 22, 2008
Politico, "Lobbyists: This is our thanks?" by Jeanne Cummings, May 21, 2008
New York Times, "The Early Word: Conflict Issues for McCain" by Ariel Alexovich, May 16, 2208
Media Matters, "Media advance myth of McCain as lobbyist foe" Feb. 26, 2008
The Hill, "Public Citizen comes to McCain's defense" by Jim Snyder, Feb. 26, 2008
Huffington Post, "More Lobbyists On McCain Staff Than Any Other 08 Candidate" by Thomas B. Edsall, May 23, 2008
Washington Post, "The Anti-Lobbyist, Advised by Lobbyists" by Michael D. Shear and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Feb. 22, 2008
U.S. Senate, "Lobbying Disclosure Act search engine"
Interview with Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, May 23, 2008
Interview with Steve Weissman, associate director for policy at the Campaign Finance Institute, May 23, 2008
Interview with McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers, May 23, 2008
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