McCain Taps Lobbyist for Transition

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ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain speaks at a campaign event in Fairfax, Virginia on Sept. 10

A prominent Washington lobbyist who has worked for every Republican President since Richard Nixon has been tapped by the McCain campaign to conduct a study in preparation for the presidential transition should John McCain win the election, according to sources familiar with the process.

William E. Timmons Sr. is a Washington institution, having worked in the Nixon and Ford administrations as an aide for congressional relations and having assisted the transition teams of both Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George W. Bush in 2000. He was also a senior adviser to both Vice President George Bush in 1988 and Senator Bob Dole in 1996.

Timmons is the chairman emeritus of Timmons and Company, a small but influential lobbying firm he founded in 1975 shortly after leaving the White House. According to Senate records, he registered to lobby in 2008 for a wide range of companies and trade groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, the American Medical Association, Chrysler, Freddie Mac, Visa USA and Anheuser-Busch.

His registrations include work on a number of issues that have become flashpoints in the presidential campaign. He has registered to work on bills that deal with the regulations of troubled mortgage lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, a bill to provide farm subsidies and bills that regulate domestic oil-drilling.

By tapping Timmons, McCain has turned to one of Washington's steadiest and most senior inside players to guide him in the event of a victory — but also to someone who represents the antithesis of the kind of outside-of-Washington change he has recently been promising. One Republican familiar with the process said the decision to involve Timmons could become a political liability for the campaign's reformist image, especially in the wake of the controversies over the lobbying backgrounds of other McCain staffers, including campaign manager Rick Davis. "It's one more blind spot for Rick Davis and John McCain," the person said.

Under the McCain campaign's conflict-of-interest rules, announced in May, lobbyists who volunteer for the campaign must disclose their clients, agree not to lobby the campaign or McCain's Senate office and refrain from "involvement in any campaign policy-making on the subjects for which they are registered."

Timmons, who is not leading the effort, is working on the McCain transition-planning with former Navy Secretary John Lehman Jr., a friend and traveling companion of McCain's who runs an investment bank and recently served on the national commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

McCain campaign communications director Jill Hazelbaker said in an e-mail that the campaign would not comment on news stories about the transition process. Messages left at Timmons' office and home Thursday afternoon were not returned. A spokesman for Lehman referred questions to McCain campaign manager Rick Davis.

It is typical for presidential campaigns to begin working on the transition effort months before the election, given the short window available to set up a new government between Election Day and the Inauguration. The Obama campaign has also started a transition-planning effort, recruiting John Podesta — a former chief of staff to President Clinton who now runs a liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress — to help oversee the preparation.

(See photos of John McCain on the campaign trail here.)