(CNN) - After months of avoiding references to the decades-old “Keating Five” scandal that nearly derailed John McCain’s political career, Barack Obama’s campaign is highlighting the Republican presidential nominee’s ties to Charles Keating, an Arizona businessman who went to prison during the aftermath of the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.
The campaign is releasing a new 13-minute “documentary” about the scandal, and sending a message to supporters that ties McCain to the federal bailout that followed.
A preview of the new Web video, "Keating Economics: John McCain and the Making of a Financial Crisis," shows clips of McCain's hearings before the Senate Ethics Committee two decades ago, as the narrator says "the Keating Five involved all the things that have brought the modern crisis” and that McCain "has not learned the lessons and has continued to follow policies that are going to produce a disaster."
Watch: 'Keating 5' dogs McCain
McCain was one of five senators, dubbed the "Keating Five," who met with regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, the owner of Lincoln Savings and Loan.
Listen: McCain aides fight back over Keating on a campaign conference call
In a message to supporters Sunday, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe tied McCain to the lack of oversight that led to the savings and loan crisis of that era, and the massive federal bailout package that resulted. "During the savings and loan crisis of the late '80s and early '90s, McCain's political favors and aggressive support for deregulation put him at the center of the fall of Lincoln Savings and Loan," Plouffe writes. "More than 23,000 investors lost their savings. Overall, the savings and loan crisis required the federal government to bail out the savings of hundreds of thousands of families and ultimately cost American taxpayers $124 billion."
The Obama campaign had largely avoided mentioning the disgraced Arizona financier for most of the year. After an Obama backer referenced the Keating Five scandal this spring, the campaign appeared to distance itself from the comment — but Obama signaled it might be fair game later in the year: "I was just asked previously about a whole host of associations that are a lot more flimsy than John McCain’s relationship to Keating Five," he told reporters.
Two weeks ago, as controversy over deregulation and financial oversight began to dominate the public consciousness and the McCain campaign started to step up its attacks over Obama’s associations with controversial Chicago figures, Obama spokesman Bill Burton raised the issue for the first time since May. The McCain camp had accused the New York Times of supporting Obama's presidential bid; Burton responded by sending reporters a list of investigative stories the paper had run about the Illinois senator, complaining that McCain’s relationship with Keating had not come up for similar scrutiny over the course of the campaign.
The Senate Ethics Committee investigated and cleared McCain in 1991, but said that he showed poor judgment in his efforts for Keating, who had been a major contributor to his campaign. McCain later turned over $112,000 in campaign contributions from Keating to the U.S. Treasury.
The documentary will be released online at noon.
The move comes two days after Gov. Sarah Palin accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists who target their own country" because he was supported by Bill Ayers, a founding member of the Weather Underground.
Responding to the new attacks over McCain’s history with Keating, the GOP nominee’s spokesman Brian Rogers raised those links again.
"John McCain has been open and honest about the Keating matter, and even the Democratic special counsel in charge recommended that Senator McCain be completely exonerated,” said Rogers. “By contrast, Barack Obama has been fundamentally dishonest about his friendship and work with the unrepentant terrorist William Ayers, whose radical group bombed the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol. Nor has Barack Obama come clean on his close friendship with Tony Rezko, a felon convicted on bribery charges who subsidized the purchase of Barack Obama's home. It's obvious that Barack Obama is frantically attacking because he knows that most voters find these kinds of friendships, and the failed judgment they expose, to be unacceptable for our next president."