Contract but no Contacts: McCain Campaign Official’s Firm Collects Millions from Saudis but no Meetings with Members of Congress


In the five years prior to joining Arizona Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, Thomas Loeffler’s lobbying firm contacted U.S. government officials, including members of Congress, staff and executive branch officials, an average of 58 times during every six month reporting period on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia. In the year that Loeffler has served on McCain’s campaign, employees at the firm reported only one contact on behalf of the Saudis, though it continued to receive fees from the oil kingdom some $3.5 million in all, according to the federal disclosure documents.

The forms, required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, are filed with the Department of Justice every six months. The most recent disclosure states that the firm received $990,000 in lobbing fees and another $3,000 in expenses from the Saudi government to lobby on trade issues from May to November 2007, but does not cite any in-person meetings, phone conversations or e-mails with any executive branch official, member of Congress or staff. According to the May 2007 filing there was only one teleconference on March 26, two weeks after Loeffler joined McCain’s campaign. FARA requires lobbyists of foreign governments to disclose all such contacts in the biannual filings with the Department of Justice.

According to the November 2007, disclosure forms signed by Tom Loeffler, the firm “provided services related to interaction between foreign principal and Members of Congress, congressional staff, officials in the Executive Branch and the World Trade Organization.” Although it is possible that there were no reportable contacts during the time, the forms do not explicitly say so.

By contrast, disclosure forms filed in 2006 by the Loeffler Group in May and November detail meetings with members of Congress, including one with McCain on May 17, 2006. The filings also show that in 2006, Tom Loeffler had facilitated meetings between then Saudi Ambassador Price Turki Al-Faisal and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., to discuss “U.S.-Saudi relations.” The November 2006, disclosure shows that meetings were convened between Tom Loeffler and Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, in June.

The Loeffler Group has received close to $15 million since 2003 when they began to lobby for the Saudi government. In 2006, the year after Saudi Arabia entered the WTO group of countries, the Loeffler Group received more than $7million from the Saudis in lobbying fees, FARA documents show.The firm declined to comment on any of their lobbying disclosure filings.

In addition to the Saudis, the Loeffler Group’s other foreign clients include the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, a government agency that hired the firm to lobby on trade issues including international trade policy, U.S.-China trade relationship and the WTO.

Loeffler, who represented Texas as a member of the House of Representatives from 1978 to 1986, serves as the general co-chair of McCain’s campaign. Susan Nelson, another Loeffler Group employee who also lobbied on behalf of Saudi government, later left the firm to take up a position with McCain as campaign finance director.

Ties between the McCain camp and the Loeffler Group run deeper: Employees of the lobbying firm have given more than $13,000 to the McCain presidential campaign, with Tom Loeffler making a maximum primary contribution of $2300 in June 2007.

Last week, Mark Penn, a lobbyist with Penn, Schoen & Berland, stepped down as top strategist for Sen. Hillary Clinton’s, D-N.Y. He resigned after news reports that Penn, a lobbyist for the government of Colombia advocated for trade policies that Clinton opposed. Though Penn tried to distance himself from his firm’s advocacy to the Colombian government, which led them to drop their contract with Penn’s firm, it still cost Penn his job.

In Loeffler’s case, the filings don’t list any meetings, though they do describe ongoing advocacy for the Saudi government and show hefty fees as well.

Loeffler has been involved in some lobbying efforts while working for the McCain campaign. According to an Associated Press report from earlier this year, he lobbied on behalf of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. the parent company of Airbus while serving as one of McCain’s chief advisers. One of the key issues that was lobbied on by EADS was the aerial refueling contract. In the past couple of years, McCain has been nudging the Pentagon to ensure that their bidding procedures do not leave out Airbus.

McCain’s campaign did not respond to phone and e-mail contacts requesting comment.