Two of Sen. John McCain’s top advisers and fundraisers are among several Republican and Democratic presidential campaign officials whose lobbying firms have been paid more than $15 million by foreign governments since 2005.
The firms of McCain senior adviser Charlie Black, who until recently was the chairman of Washington-based BKSH & Associates, and campaign co-chairman Thomas G. Loeffler, who heads the Loeffler Group in San Antonio, received millions of dollars lobbying the White House, Congress and others as agents of nearly a dozen foreign clients in recent years.
“At no time have I discussed my clients with John McCain, and there have been many occasions where he has voted against my clients’ interests, but that doesn’t change my belief that John McCain is the best candidate to lead our nation,” said Mr. Loeffler, a former Texas congressman, whose firm has received millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia.
The arrangements are legal, and hundreds of lobbyists are registered to work for foreign clients. But experts say conflict-of-interest questions can arise if lobbying and campaign activities overlap.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea that one person plays all these roles,” said Toni-Michelle C. Travis, a political analyst and professor of government at George Mason University. “The entanglements become greater and greater, and that can lead to conflict-of-interest questions at some point.
“People are slipping across the lines to play multiple roles.”
Mark Penn, former top strategist to Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, recently resigned after consulting on a Colombian trade agreement that Mrs. Clinton opposed. Mr. Penn is chief executive of Washington-based Burson-Marsteller, which has lobbied for the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Colombian Embassy and the Mexico Tourism Board.
In addition, the Glover Park Group where top Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson previously worked, received more than $170,000 last year from the Colombian trade bureau and $250,000 from Dubai Aerospace Enterprises Ltd.
Clinton bundler John Merrigan is registered to lobby foreign governments at DLA Piper, which during a six-month span last year reported more than $2.8 million in fees from foreign entities. In addition, former New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli, another Clinton bundler, signed off on a $15,000 per-month lobbying deal last year with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Taiwan’s office in the U.S.
The lobbying efforts by New Jersey-based Rosemont Associates, where Mr. Torricelli is managing partner, included e-mails and a meeting with Mrs. Clinton’s Senate staff in November, at a time when Mr. Torricelli was raising money for the Clinton presidential campaign, records show. Telephone and e-mail messages left with Mr. Torricelli and the Clinton campaign were not returned yesterday.
In the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, fundraiser William T. Lake and adviser Stanford Ross were registered as a foreign lobbyists in the 1990s, according to Justice Department records.
Mr. Black, who chaired BKSH when it received more than $700,000 in fees from foreign entities since 2005, also signed a deal to lobby for the China National Offshore Oil Corp., a state-owned firm that backed out of an $18.5 billion takeover of U.S. oil producer Unocal amid sharp congressional opposition.
In 2005, the House passed a resolution 398-15 calling for a thorough review of the deal and lawmakers from both parties said the prospect of a Chinese state-owned energy company in charge of a U.S. oil producer posed a national security threat.
Mr. Black said he wasn’t working on any campaigns at the time, but he added that he has a personal rule against giving advice to Mr. McCain on any issues in which he has been a lobbyist: “If an issue comes up, I don’t participate in the discussion.”