Gosh, who could have predicted that close and substantial ties to lobbyists for St. McCain might lead to some uncomfortable questions. Meet John McCain’s Airbus campaign plane — and his fundraising lobbyist pals who work for Airbus. Let’s start with names:

“McCain has spoken out for years against the influence of special interests in Washington, but his campaign includes a number of prominent Washington lobbyists, including campaign manager Rick Davis, who founded a lobbying firm, and top political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., chief executive of a well-known Washington firm. Neither of them lobbied for Airbus."

"McCain finance chairman Thomas G. Loeffler and Susan E. Nelson, who left Loeffler’s lobbying firm to be McCain’s finance director, both began lobbying for Airbus’s parent company in 2007, Senate records show. William L. Ball III, a former secretary of the Navy and frequent McCain surrogate on the trail, also lobbied for Airbus, as did John Green, who recently took a leave from Ogilvy Public Relations to serve as McCain’s legislative liaison."

“McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said the senator from Arizona and his advisers have done ‘nothing improper’ in the tanker deal. ‘John McCain was never personally lobbied on this issue,’ she said."

McCain claims the process was clean, and all he wanted was a "fair deal" for all involved — but that process has now spawned a protest filing from Boeing and a whole host of questions about the Air Force allegedly manipulating data to keep Airbus in the selection process. And that makes me wonder about the upsurge in campaign donations to McCain from related industry groups. Via HuffPo:

McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, played a crucial role in blocking the deal to build air tankers from going to U.S.-based Boeing, instead paving the path for EADS to score the loot. He framed his decision as an example of political integrity; Boeing has previously been exposed of contract abuse. But a review of campaign finance donations and lobbying records suggests that money and personal lobbying may have also been in play.

On January 15, 2007, McCain appeared at Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s gubernatorial swearing in ceremony and formally called for multiple bidders in the tanker deal. The push for an open process had only one true beneficiary, however, and that was the Northrop Grumman/EADS consortium, which was poised to be Boeing’s sole competitor.

A day after McCain made his proclamation, the contributions began to flow. John Green, a lobbyist for EADS donated $2,100 to the senator’s presidential campaign. Ten days after that, Michelle Lammers, the "Chief of Staff" for EADS North America, gave $250 to the McCain campaign. It was her first political contribution ever. Less than a month later, the long-time head of EADS’ government affairs program, Samuel Adcock, made a $2,100 donation to McCain. And eleven days later, Ralph Crosby, the head of EADS North America, donated $2,300 himself.

All told, as documented earlier by CQ PoliticalMoneyline, McCain received more than $15,000 from EADS and its subsidiary, Airbus North America. Not only was this the highest amount received by any federal candidate, but prior to 2006, not a single employee from EADS had ever contributed to McCain. Two Airbus employees did donate nearly $4,000 for his 2000 run at the White House.

"It has a bad appearance," said Phillip Finnegan, the director of corporate analysis at The Teal Group, a market analysis and consulting firm. "Clearly, companies contribute to members of congress who are sympathetic with there position. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it influences their position… McCain is a bit of a crusader. And when he has an issue like he had with Boeing, he pursues it. But [the contributions] definitely doesn’t look good."

Finnegan was referring to McCain’s 2003 investigation into Boeing’s billing practices and lock on the tanker business. That investigation resulted in the company losing out on a $23 billion deal to lease tankers to the Air Force. On Friday, McCain defended both his current and past positions: "I never weighed in for or against anybody that competed for the contract. All I asked for was a fair process. And the facts are that I never showed any bias in any way against anybody — except for the taxpayer."

It may have, indeed, been a clean process. But surrounding yourself with top fundraisers, campaign gurus and advisors who have lobbied for the very corporations that Sen. McCain is charged with overseeing, regulating, and holding accountable raises a whole host of appearance of impropriety questions. Questions which Sen. McCain’s dismissive brush-offs do not come close to adequately answering.

The AP, the NYTimes, and the WaPo have more.