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CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

McCain advisor quits over lobbying role

Thomas Loeffler, whose clients have included Saudi Arabia, was national finance committee chairman.

May 19, 2008|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

A top fundraiser and advisor in Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign has resigned, becoming the latest of five aides to leave in recent days as McCain moves to sever ties with lobbyists.

Thomas G. Loeffler, a lobbyist whose clients have included Saudi Arabia, stepped down as national finance committee chairman, the senator's campaign said Sunday.

McCain has tried to build a reputation as a political reformer, but recently critics have underscored the number of lobbyists working for his candidacy.

The campaign issued a policy last week saying that lobbyists and foreign agents must either cut ties to their lobbying firms or leave the McCain team.

"We've recognized we've had an appearance issue with regard to lobbying and the campaign, and we're moving to fix it," said campaign spokesman Brian Rogers. He said others might quit in coming days. "Everybody on the campaign is required to be compliant with the policy."

Loeffler is a former Texas congressman who had been a top fundraiser for President Bush. He took over McCain's fundraising apparatus last summer when McCain's campaign ran out of money.

His law and lobbying firm, the Loeffler Group, has counted as its clients Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and the state of Hidalgo, Mexico.

Loeffler did not respond to a request for comment.

His resignation comes as Democratic presidential front-runner Barack Obama seeks to make McCain's Washington ties a campaign issue.

Obama is emphasizing his own policy against accepting money from federally registered lobbyists, including those who represent foreign governments.

At a stop in Portland, Ore., on Sunday, Obama called McCain "very much a creature of Washington."

"We can't have special interests dictating what's happening there," Obama said.

According to the Justice Department, Loeffler regularly met with members of Congress on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

In one filing available on a Justice Department website, Loeffler disclosed that on May 17, 2006, he had a "meeting with Sen. John McCain and Prince Turki to discuss the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and U.S.-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia relations." Turki was then Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. The website gives no indication that Loeffler's firm has ceased representing Saudi Arabia.

"In a year when gasoline is topping $4 a gallon, having your chief fundraiser also lobby for Saudi Arabia is not exactly an asset for your campaign," said Larry Makinson, a campaign finance expert and consultant to Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group whose projects include analyses of foreign agents.

Loeffler has represented numerous other entities, among them the nuclear power industry, pharmaceutical manufacturers, tobacco and Metabolife, a firm that was once the nation's largest producer of the dietary supplement ephedra. The stimulant was linked to seizures, strokes and death.

Garry Mauro, a prominent Texas Democrat who has long known Loeffler, said Sunday that when Loeffler joined McCain's campaign, "it was a signal that all the big-money people for Bush were signing on with McCain."

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dan.morain@latimes.com

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