- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The drive by Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain to separate their campaigns from the perceived influence of lobbyists is creating an unintended talent drain and unsavory image with each revelation of yet another adviser tainted by “outside interests.”

An Obama campaign director is a “Washington-based federal lobbyist for the government of Puerto Rico,” The Washington Post reported in one of the latest “shocking” revelations.

“Ethics watchdogs said that Francisco J. Pavia’s high-profile role appears to contradict the Obama campaign’s ethics guidelines, which forbid federal lobbyists from working on staff,” the paper reported. “But Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Pavia is an ‘active volunteer’ - not a paid staffer - and can hold the job without running afoul of the [Obama} campaign’s rules.”

Now comes word on the Web site of conservative fundraiser Richard Viguerie that Mr. McCain’s own ban against campaign aides engaging in lobbying apparently doesn’t extend to spouses. The culprit indirectly, according to the Viguerie revelation, is Mike Hudome, who replaced Texas Democrat Mark McKinnon as lead media strategist for the McCain campaign.

The problem, as the Web site points out, is that Mr. Hudome’ wife, Randa Fahmy Hudome, has lobbied for the Libyan government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi and now lobbies for U.S. business interests seeking ties with Libya. In other words, the McCain no-lobbying ban apparently doesn’t extend to spouses.

However, Obama adviser and former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle is married to lobbyist and former Federal Aviation Administration official Linda Hall, whose clients include American Airlines, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

There is nothing illegal or immoral about any of that, but Mr. McCain’s and Mr. Obama’s edicts on campaign ethics have, inadvertently, created their own ethical dilemma, according to Merrill Matthews, an ethics lecturer and resident scholar for several think tanks.

“In McCain’s case, he has tried to take a principled ethical position by excluding lobbyists from working on his campaign,” Mr. Matthews said. “But in so doing, he’s created aclassical ethical dilemma that pits his principlesagainstthe negative consequences of limitinghis campaign’stalent pool.”

Mr. Matthews said the McCain ban has ended up illustrating how difficult it is for a candidate to try to “surround himself with the best and the brightest whenso many of them - or their spouses - are paid to work on particular issues precisely because they are the best and brightest.”

Even Mr. McCain´s fellow Republicans say his anti-lobbying ban appears to have backfired to the extent that it has created a stream of resignations from the campaign by people who appear to be in violation of the ban. Compounding the talent drain is the public stir it creates, at times dominating the news and making it seem that the Arizona senator willingly surrounded himself with the very people he later declared categorically unfit to be associated with his campaign.

So far, five senior McCain advisers, including top fundraiser Thomas G. Loeffler, a former Texas congressman, have left the campaign because of the ban.

Republicans have been complaining that Mr. Obama, the likely Democratic standard bearer, says he doesn´t take financial contributions from lobbyists, but what he doesn´t say is that he accepts campaign donations from lobbyists´ spouses.

The Center for Responsive Politics has reported that the Illinois senator has taken $85,000 directly from state and municipal lobbyists or family members of federal lobbyists.

Now the dragging of spouses into the muddle created by the candidates’ competition over ethics provides yet another excuse for talented, high-profile people earning legitimate livings to get tagged as somehow shady.

Mr. Merrill cites the example of Mrs. Hudome, who founded the lobbying firm Fahmy Hudome International and was an associate deputy energy secretary in the second Bush administration.

Her company’s Web site says it “has represented a number of foreign governments and entities, including the government of Libya” and that after “two years of persistent and effective advocacy for Libya, FHI achieved a great success in May of 2006, when the U.S. Department of State removed Libya from its list of countries sponsoring terrorism.”

Justice Department documents released under the Foreign Agents Registration Act show that Libya agreed to pay the Hudome firm more than $1.4 million for its efforts.

FHI says its success in persuading the State Department to de-list Libya is “a historic foreign policy achievement [because] Libya was the first and only country ever to have been removed from the U.S. terrorist list through diplomatic means.”

FHI goes on to take credit for the normalization of relations between Washington and Tripoli and adds that the Hudome firm “is now focusing on the next phase of U.S.-Libya relations by representing U.S. companies who wish to do business there.”

The McCain campaign, which instituted the lobbying ban, now has to explain why it doesn’t apply in this case.

“The McCain campaign has enacted one of the strictest lobbying disclosure policies in presidential campaign history,” said McCain spokesman Joe Pounder. “Mrs. Hudome doesn´t work for the campaign and does not fall under the campaign´s policy.”

The policy, he said, means that “no person working for the campaign may be a registered lobbyist or foreign agent or receive compensation for any such activity.”

The policy does not apply retroactively to campaign staff and volunteers, the McCain spokesman added.

“Even so, it casts a shadow over their advice to the campaigns and maybe even their careers,” Mr. Matthews said.

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