An article by Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr. of the New York Times went largely unnoticed on Sunday due to the nation’s focus on the ongoing financial crisis. The story was a lengthy examination of the relationships cultivated between lobbyists representing the Indian gaming industry and Senator John McCain over his 22 years in the U.S. Senate. Both presidential candidates have pledged to change the way Washington works, emphasizing their Senate records as champions of lobbying and ethics reform.
In a move that is emblematic of the rapid-response mindset in modern campaign advertising, the Democratic National Committee wasted no time in producing an eerie web video, portraying McCain as a “betting man” who stacked the deck in his favor during the explosive growth of a now $26 billion Indian gambling industry.
While on the stump, the candidates have downplayed their own ties to lobbyists while publicly ignoring the fundraising role policy advocates and their firms play in presidential campaigns. This has not prevented Senators McCain and Obama (and their surrogates) from ramping up the attacks against each other, however.
The junior senator from Illinois has attempted at times to portray McCain and his campaign as hypocritical: “This is somebody who has been in Congress for 26 years, who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign,” Obama quipped at a recent campaign rally. “And now he tells us that he's the one who is going to take on the old boy's network. The old boy's network, in the McCain campaign, that's called a staff meeting.” Senator McCain, for his part, has not been reluctant to send barbs in Obama’s direction: “The crisis on Wall Street, my friends, started in the Washington culture of lobbying and influence-peddling, and [Senator Obama] was right square in the middle of it.”
In spite of these zingers flying back and forth between the candidates in what is a very competitive race, the Times article raises some interesting questions for McCain, who, as chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, presided over the congressional investigation into the lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff. While both Senators McCain and Obama have been at pains to distance themselves from any close association with Washington lobbyists and “special interests,” it is clear that both candidates could be more forthright on this issue.