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Links to Lobbyists Pose Questions for Campaigns

The role played by lobbyists in each of the top three campaigns for president has become a hot button issue as the race to raise campaign cash gains intensity. Analysts debate the role of lobbyists in campaigns and why the lobbying trade has taken on new scrutiny.

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    Next, lobbyists and presidential candidates, the not-so-strange bedfellows. Gwen Ifill has the story.


    The role played by lobbyists in each of the top three campaigns for president has become a recurring thorn in the candidates' sides.

    In recent weeks, five advisers to Republican John McCain have been forced to resign because of ties to controversial clients and causes.

    McCain, who gained a reputation on Capitol Hill as an anti-lobbying reformer, last week decided to bar registered lobbyists from direct campaign employment and require part-time volunteers to disclose their lobbying clients.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: We wanted to make sure that there was an effective, comprehensive, and transparent policy towards lobbying, the most comprehensive and transparent of any presidential campaign in history. And I challenge Senator Obama to adopt the same policy.


    At a rally in Montana yesterday, Democrat Barack Obama focused on what he claims are conflicts of interest.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: The fact is, John McCain's campaign is being run by Washington lobbyists and paid for with their money. Senator McCain has been a candidate in this race for more than a year, but it's only within the last few days, when stories surfaced publicly about his lobbyist aides and their clients, that Senator McCain take any action to curb their role.


    Obama has made lobbying reform a central component of his "change" message, constantly reminding voters that lobbyists don't run or finance his campaign. But Obama's campaign does count many lobbyists among its unpaid advisers.

    Hillary Clinton does employ lobbyists on her campaign, including top strategist Mark Penn, and she said last year she would continue to accept contributions from them.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I will, because, you know, a lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans. They actually do. They represent nurses. They represent, you know, social workers. Yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people.


    Obama, however, has repeatedly used the issue to argue Clinton would be the weaker candidate.


    If there are voters who are sick of a Washington that is dominated by special interests and lobbyists, and John McCain comes in with a reputation for being a reformer, who matches up better in that debate about who can clean up Washington, somebody who has not taken PAC money, has not taken federal lobbyists' money, who has passed the toughest ethics reform legislation since Watergate, who has reform credentials that are at least as strong, if not stronger than John McCain, or somebody who has said that they don't think lobbyists are a problem?


    For McCain, the issue has hovered for some time. In February, the New York Times raised questions about his relationship with a telecommunications industry lobbyist. McCain dismissed the report.


    I have a long record, as I said, a 50-year record, a 24-year record as a member of Congress. And I'm confident that my record will be reviewed.

    There are many people who have dealt with me who are now stepping forward and talking about how fairly and objectively I ran the Commerce Committee and the leadership I've shown in many reform issues, including my opposition to earmark and pork-barrel spending.

    So I'll be asking people to look at my entire record, and I think that that will stand.


    One indication of how difficult it can be to separate lobbyists from politics in Washington, McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, who is enforcing the new lobbyist ban, and senior strategist Charles Black, who is defending it, have themselves worked as lobbyists.

    So why have lobbyists and the work they do become a campaign hot button? For opposing views, we turn to Joan Claybrook, the president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, and Paul Miller, former president of the American League of Lobbyists. He now owns his own lobbying shop, Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies.