McCain Staffer/Bundler Got Legislative Favor As Lobbyist

11/27/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

John McCain has pledged that, if elected president, he will end the revolving door between the White House and lobbying shops. But his actions haven't always lived up to his rhetoric -- including an incident in 1999 when McCain added a clause to legislation that would benefit one of his former staffers and future campaign bundlers.

According to a 1999 editorial in the Washington Post, America West lobbyist John Timmons -- a former legislative aide from McCain's Senate office -- was the driving force behind a "nonsensical" proposal to secure additional slots for his airline at Reagan National Airport. According to officials quoted by the paper, the Arizona-based company (which has since become part of US Airways) "would be the main beneficiary" of a clause inserted by McCain. The clause was worded in a way that could only benefit the single company.

The Post reported on April 28, 1998 that some of these flights would also indirectly benefit McCain himself, with increased direct traffic between Washington and McCain's home airport in Phoenix:

According to an analysis issued Monday by the Washington Airports Task Force, the McCain bill is written so Tempe, Ariz.-based America West would be the main beneficiary. The study noted that the bill calls for 12 of the 24 new slots to be awarded to airlines that now have fewer than 20 slots at National and that could use the slots to serve hub airports beyond the current maximum 1,250-mile 'perimeter' for flights from National. The study said America West is the only network carrier with fewer than 20 current slots and with hubs -- Phoenix and Las Vegas -- beyond the perimeter.

The deal was not the final link between McCain and his staffer turned lobbyist, either.

In 1999, as McCain was ramping up his first presidential run, Timmons co-hosted a fundraiser that netted $120,000 for McCain. As the Post noted in its coverage of the event, industry lobbyists were eager to back McCain's "long-shot" bid since "no matter how the Arizona Republican fares on the national scene, he is still the chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee."

And Timmons has figured into McCain's 2008 fundraising effort, as well, bundling at least $50,000 for the GOP nominee.

Since then, Timmons has moved on to open his own lobbying shop, The Cormac Group. Timmons' own biography on the firm's website describes him as the "principal strategist for [America West's] political achievements at the federal level."

Of course, it's not at all unusual or unlawful for a former staffer to an influential Senator to become a powerful lobbyist for a regulated industry. But as McCain inveighs at length (as he did in Ohio Monday) that he will "fight to clean up the mess of corruption in Washington," the story of Timmons and America West paints a different picture.