WASHINGTON - John McCain has pledged that, if elected president, he would end the revolving-door practice of administration officials leaving office for lucrative lobbying jobs.
In an interview with Politico, the Republican senator from Arizona called lobbyists "birds of prey." But, until recently, the revolving door in his Senate office has spun steadily.
At least 16 of McCain's former Senate staffers have gone on to careers in the influence trade, according to an analysis of federal lobbying records. In many cases, they went to work for clients whose issues the staffers dealt with in the Senate.
"Actions speak louder than words," Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said, explaining that the senator has opened himself up to charges of hypocrisy by putting himself out front on ethics issues.
Both McCain and his Democratic rival for the White House, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, are trying to be "more ethical than thou" on lobbying, Krumholz said.
Obama has also pledged to stop the revolving door if elected. He has also declined to take donations from lobbyists; McCain has not.
An analysis of records did not find any former Obama Senate aides lobbying, though he's still in his first term. McCain is in his fourth, after two terms in the House.
McCain announced his plan to stop the revolving door after the media spotlight fell on some controversial clients - including Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Georgia and Philip Morris USA - that a few of his senior campaign aides had represented as lobbyists. Several of those aides have since left the campaign.
"I would not allow anyone who worked for my administration to go back to lobbying," McCain said in the Politico interview.
Asked later if McCain had changed his position on the revolving door, campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said the senator "was making clear where he stands on the revolving door as it relates to the presidency," adding that McCain's record of taking on the status quo is "unmatched" in this race for the White House.
Still, during McCain's nearly 25 years in Congress, the revolving door has remained open. As his aides have moved downtown from Capitol Hill, they've drawn from their experience on the senator's personal staff or on his key committees: Armed Services, Commerce and Indian Affairs.
Here's a closer look:
• Mark Buse went from being staff director of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation when McCain chaired it to becoming a lobbyist at two firms, ML Strategies and Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo. His clients included many companies with issues before the committee, including Northwest Airlines, AT&T Wireless, Cablevision and Exxon Mobil Corp. This year, Buse returned to work for McCain as chief of staff of his Senate office.
• John D. Desser was a staffer in McCain's Senate office and was a health policy aide in his unsuccessful 2000 presidential campaign.
After that, he lobbied for the health insurance, chemical, coal and pharmaceutical industries. From there, he was deputy assistant secretary for health policy at the Department of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration and has since gone back to the private sector as vice president of public policy and government affairs for eHealth, an online health insurance company.
• After serving as counsel for McCain's Senate Commerce committee, Sloan W. Rappoport moved on to the Bush administration and then to K Street. Rappoport is now a vice president of the Downey McGrath Group, where he lobbies for legalization of Internet poker and for a group promoting offshore oil drilling.
• John W. Timmons served as legislative counsel for McCain, working on commerce, energy and environmental issues. Since then, Timmons has founded his own lobbying firm that represents clients under Commerce committee jurisdiction, including AT&T, the Air Transport Association, the Association of American Railroads and TW Telecom, formerly Time Warner Telecom.
• Pablo Chavez, a former chief counsel to McCain, is now an advocate for Google, where his experience on the Commerce Committee doubtless comes in handy. Last year, he fought off objections to the acquisition of Internet marketing giant DoubleClick and is now working on the contentious issue of Net neutrality with hardware providers such as AT&T and the regional Bell companies
• David Crane, a former McCain Commerce committee aide, notes in his lobbying firm biography that, as an aide, he "developed and implemented legislative and communications strategies and tactics to secure passage of Senator McCain's legislative agenda." He has worked in three K Street firms, representing clients on financial services, homeland security and trade issues. He now runs the firm Quadripoint Strategies.
• Former McCain chief of staff and Commerce committee counsel Christopher Koch is now the McCain campaign's policy coordinator. In between holding those positions, he was a lobbyist. Before joining the campaign, Koch was president and chief executive officer of the World Shipping Council, a lobbying trade group that represents about 40 foreign and domestic ocean transport companies. In the first Bush administration, he was chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission. And in the second Bush administration, as chairman of the Department of Homeland Security's National Maritime Security Advisory Committee, he helped craft port security policy.
• Ann Sauer worked for the Senate Armed Services Committee and later became vice president of Washington operations for Lockheed Martin. The world's largest defense company has spent more than $8 million this year on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
• After working as a Senate aide for McCain, Michael Jimenez set up shop as a lobbyist. His clients include Pinnacle West, and he advocates for the Arizona-based utility on nuclear and energy issues, according to Senate records.
• Former McCain legislative assistant Sonya Sotak now works for drug giant Eli Lilly. According to Senate filings, she's lobbying on issues relating to health care reform, drug pricing in Europe and an initiative to require drug companies to disclose their payments to doctors.
• Robert Fisher, a former telecommunications adviser to McCain, went on to lobby for Clear Channel Worldwide and Verizon.
• And two former Indian Affairs Committee aides - Eric Eberhard and Steven Heeley - later represented the interests of Native American tribes in Washington.
Other former McCain staffers who went on to private sector advocacy include Steve Primrose, now a principal at Triadvocates, where he works on drug enforcement, environment and technology issues; Katy McGregor, who left Capitol Hill to work as a tax lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association and is now a senior director at the corporate speechwriting firm the White House Writers Group, working on communications strategies for companies in the telecommunications and financial services sector; and Victoria Clarke, formerly a congressional spokeswoman for McCain and later a spokeswoman for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. She's now a senior adviser for communications and government affairs at telecom giant Comcast.
Three of the McCain-staffers-turned-lobbyists - Rappoport, Timmons and Fisher - have bundled thousands of dollars in campaign donations for McCain's presidential bid, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rappoport alone has gathered $250,000 to $500,000, the center said.
McCain's newly adopted stand against administration officials using the revolving door to lobbying is the latest chapter in a campaign that has jockeyed for the moral high ground.
In the past, McCain has been on both sides of the ethics fence, stumbling in the Keating Five scandal in the late 1980s and early 1990s and going on to push for what Krumholz calls the "most important campaign finance reforms since Watergate."
American League of Lobbyists President Brian Pallasch said lobbyists have become "a convenient punching bag during the election." With thousands of bills floating around Congress, lobbyists help decode the details for time-crunched lawmakers, he said.
"Lobbying is part of all of our First Amendment rights, ... like a right to the free press," Pallasch said. "It needs to be defended."