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Adviser calls lobbyist scrutiny 'nonsense'

From NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann
CHICAGO, IL -- Charlie Black, one of the advisers at the center of the firestorm over the participation of former lobbyists in the McCain's campaign, weighed in on the controversy today.

Speaking to reporters on McCain's campaign plane, Black said that the flurry of debate over former lobbyists' work for the campaign is "complete inside-the-Beltway nonsense."

Reporters peppered the longtime GOP operative with questions about the campaign's new conflict-of-interest policy, a directive issued last week in the midst of the resignations of at least five McCain aides due to potential violations of the senator's ethical standards. 

The latest casualty of the purge is Tom Loeffler, McCain's national finance co-chairman. "It's too bad," Black said of Loeffler's departure, adding that he respects his former colleague's decision.  Loeffler left the campaign after NEWSWEEK reported that his firm has collected an eight-figure take from Saudi Arabia in the last six years, and had hired a McCain staffer who double-dipped as a campaign aide and lobbying consultant.

Asked today if questions about potential conflicts-of-interest might be affecting the choices of average American voters, Black responded bluntly: "Hell, no." He was careful to say that Senator McCain is committed to maintaining the integrity of the campaign -- hence his commitment to the re-vetting process. But, Black  added, "I do not believe that average voters out there care."

Liberal political group MoveOn.org targeted Black last week in an online ad that linked his former firm to dictatorial regimes in the Philippines and Zaire. Other than such groups, Black said today, "Nobody else cares about it."

He added sarcastically that he's "flattered" to be the target of criticisms from Democrats, but insisted that his circumstance fits the campaign's new standard. "I was in compliance before there was a rule!" he exclaimed. (Black quit from his lobbying post in March to work full time for the campaign. "I have no connection to the firm," he said today, adding that colleague Rick Davis -- McCain's campaign manager and another target of McCain's critics -- has not lobbied for five years.)

"Your past profession should not be injected into a candidate's campaign," he argued, giving as a parallel example the objectivity of prominent journalists who once served as partisan political aides.

"It's absurd."