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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Not Pictured Here

The people in suits shown with McCain in an Obama ad are not lobbyists, as the narrator implies.



An Obama ad features video of McCain walking toward the camera with a group of people in power suits, as the narrator says, "the lobbyists, running his low road campaign." None of the people pictured are lobbyists, however.

The ad also repeats a misleading claim that McCain favors "billions in tax breaks for big oil and drug companies." But McCain’s tax policy doesn’t target those industries. He calls for lowering the corporate tax rate for all companies.


Barack Obama’s campaign has been very forthright about criticizing John McCain for having lobbyists work for his campaign. Yet a new Obama TV ad, released Aug. 11, gives a false picture – quite literally – of who exactly they are.


[TET ]

Obama for America Ad: "Embrace"

Narrator: For decades, he’s been Washington’s biggest celebrity. And as Washington has embraced him, John McCain hugged right back.

The lobbyists, running his low road campaign. The money, billions in tax breaks for big oil and drug companies but almost nothing for families like yours. Lurching to the right then the left, the old Washington dance, whatever it takes. John McCain: a Washington celebrity playing the same old Washington games.

Obama: I’m Barack Obama and I approved this message. [/TET]

The ad features a shot of McCain walking with a serious-looking group of people in power suits as the narrator says, "The lobbyists" – dramatic pause – "running his low road campaign." But none of the folks pictured are actually lobbyists. Not even former lobbyists. And two of them are Secret Service guys.

The Washington Times‘ Christina Bellantoni noted the discrepancy in the ad Aug.  11, identifying those pictured as, from left to right, "an unidentified Secret Service agent, eBay executive Meg Whitman, McCain, another Secret Service agent, traveling press aide Brooke Buchanan and Greg Wendt, a San Francisco Democrat and volunteer adviser who travels with McCain." The McCain campaign confirms that those are the identities of the people pictured.

Granted these smartly dressed folks may well fit the bill at a Hollywood casting call for "lobbyists." But they’re not lobbyists in real life. Whitman is well known as the recently retired eBay CEO with a lengthy business career. She’s a campaign co-chair. Wendt’s career has been in mutual fund management. Both are McCain fundraisers.

The Obama campaign justifies the ad’s statement that "the lobbyists" are running McCain’s campaign by citing various press reports about McCain campaign manager Rick Davis, who is a former telecommunications lobbyist; senior adviser Charlie Black, who was chairman of the lobbying firm BKSH & Associates and who recently stepped down to work for McCain; and several other McCain advisers that have worked as lobbyists. McCain said in February that while lobbyists serve as his advisers, "they’re honorable people, and I’m proud to have them as part of my team," as reported by the Associated Press. In May, the McCain camp announced a new conflict-of-interest policy saying that no one working for the campaign could be a currently registered lobbyist. There are now former lobbyists in the campaign.

When we asked the Obama camp about its use of an image lacking any actual lobbyists, former or otherwise, spokesman Tommy Vietor told us, "I think everyone knows which lobbyists are running his campaign."

If so, everyone should also know they’re not pictured in this ad.


Targeted Tax Breaks?


The Obama ad also expands upon a misleading claim we’ve written about before. It says that McCain supports "billions in tax breaks for big oil and drug companies." (Last week, the claim was only about oil companies.) Either way, McCain’s proposal is actually to lower the corporate tax rate for all companies, not just those in unpopular industries.

– by Lori Robertson


Birnbaum, Jeffrey H. and John Solomon. “McCain’s Unlikely Ties to K Street.” The Washington Post, 31 Dec. 2007.


Meier, Barry and Kate Zernike. “McCain Finds a Thorny Path in Ethics Effort.” The New York Times, 20 May 2008.

Bellantoni, Christina. “Lobbyist lover or just walking down the street?” The Washington Times blog, 11 Aug. 2008.

Associated Press. “McCain defends lobbyist ties,” 22 Feb. 2008.