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.”
Saying he resigned from BKSH to spend more time on the McCain campaign, Mr. Black said Mr. McCain is not influenced by lobbyists, including those who have worked or raised money for his campaign.
Mr. Loeffler’s firm has received more than $10 million since 2006 from the Saudi Embassy and the Ministry of Commerce & Industry of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Just two months ago, the firm also signed an agreement with the South Korean Embassy to consult on “legislation affecting Korea’s foreign military sales status and related matters.”
Since 2005, the firm reported more than $11 million in fees from foreign lobbying clients.
Legislation pending in the House and Senate would make it easier for South Korea to buy weapons from U.S. companies. The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, has not come up for a vote.
Lorenzo Morris, chairman of the political science department at Howard University, said Mr. McCain can expect some scrutiny in the general election over ties to lobbyists given his reputation as an anti-special interest candidate.
“John McCain has a reputation about being scrupulous since he is the co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law,” Mr. Morris said. But he added that it is also probably unrealistic to expect a candidate to run a campaign without some help from people who work in the lobbying industry.
“K Street takes up a lot of Washington,” Mr. Morris said.
Other McCain campaign bundlers, who have committed to raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the candidate, also have received lobbying fees from foreign governments. They include the following:
c Peter T. Madigan, a former top official in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who is a top lobbyist for the Washington-based firm of Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland & Stewart.
The firm, whose clients include the Colombian government’s trade bureau, reported more than $1 million in fees from foreign clients since 2006.
c Kirk Blalock, national chairman for Young Professionals for McCain, who is a partner at Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, a government consulting and public relations firm established in 1978 and described by Fortune Magazine as the “hottest lobbying firm on Capitol Hill.”
Mr. Blalock’s firm has received at least $700,000 since 2005 lobbying for clients, including Peru, Vietnam and the Korean International Trade Association. The firm also signed a deal to lobby Congress and the White House for “enhancement of the Bahrain free trade agreement,” records show.
c Rob Allyn, head of the Dallas-based Allyn & Co., a public relations, advertising and political media firm, who was paid $720,000 by the Mexican government in 2006 to polish its image and call for a guest worker program for millions of Mexican nationals illegally in the United States.
The lobbying efforts came at a time Congress and the White House were debating comprehensive immigration-reform legislation, which was defeated in June. Then-President Vicente Fox was an outspoken critic of the proposed legislation.
Mr. Black and Mr. Loeffler also are listed by Mr. McCain’s campaign Web site as bundlers, expected to collect thousands of dollars in donations from several sources to bypass federal election laws limiting individual contributors to a $2,300 maximum donation.
Although bundlers for Mr. Obama who have raised more than $50,000 and those for Mrs. Clinton who have raised at least $100,000 are identified, how much each of the McCain bundlers has raised is not listed.