Barack Obama’s ties to lobbyists and special interests

This is a continuation of a post I wrote yesterday about Barack Obama’s false claim that his campaign is "responsible only to the people."  I know I have been writing about BO a lot lately, but that’s because I think it is imperative that the whole truth and nothing but the truth gets out about the man who could be our next president.  He’s not being completely upfront with the American people, and we all know his devotees in the press will faithfully continue to carry his water, so it’s up to "citizen journalists" to help spread the word.  Many are already doing so, and it is no burden for me whatsoever to aid in that effort.  

Contrary to what he wants you to believe about how his campaign is “responsible only to the people,” Barack Obama’s ties to special interests and lobbyists exist, and we aren’t talking about just one or two instances but a substantial amount.  Before I continue, I want to stress that my point in all this is not to suggest that BO is a total lap dog to special interests and lobbyists, and not to say that he is the Democrat equivalent of Duke Cunningham, but instead to point out that BO is, after all, a mere mortal – a man, and a politician who, when you strip him of his eloquence and charm, is no different than most other politicians when it comes to special interest money and lobbyists.   When politicians want money, and lots of it, they know where to get it.  Barack Obama is no exception to that rule.

The Washington Post fact check article I linked to noted a few examples, but here are some more:  On August 9, 2007, The Boston Globe reported on Barack Obama’s meteoric rise in politics, and just what types of groups helped make that possible: PACS and lobbyists (emphasis added by me):

A Globe review of Obama’s campaign finance records shows that he collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from lobbyists and PACs as a state legislator in Illinois, a US senator, and a presidential aspirant.

In Obama’s eight years in the Illinois Senate, from 1996 to 2004, almost two-thirds of the money he raised for his campaigns — $296,000 of $461,000 — came from PACs, corporate contributions, or unions, according to Illinois Board of Elections records. He tapped financial services firms, real estate developers, healthcare providers, oil companies, and many other corporate interests, the records show.

Obama’s US Senate campaign committee, starting with his successful run in 2004, has collected $128,000 from lobbyists and $1.3 million from PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit organization that tracks money in politics. His $1.3 million from PACs represents 8 percent of what he has raised overall. Clinton’s Senate committee, by comparison, has raised $3 million from PACs, 4 percent of her total amount raised, the group said.

In addition, Obama’s own federal PAC, Hopefund, took in $115,000 from 56 PACs in the 2005-2006 election cycle out of $4.4 million the PAC raised, according to CQ MoneyLine, which collects Federal Election Commission data. Obama then used those PAC contributions — including thousands from defense contractors, law firms, and the securities and insurance industries — to build support for his presidential run by making donations to Democratic Party organizations and candidates around the country.

The response his spokeswoman gave was a real knee-slapper:

Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that after seeing the influence of lobbyists firsthand during his two years in Washington, Obama decided before he entered the presidential race that he would take a different approach to fund-raising than he had in the past.

"He’s leading by example and taking steps that he feels need to be taken on the national stage to clean up the undue influence of Washington lobbyists on the policies and priorities of Washington," Psaki said. "His leadership on this issue is an evolving process."

LOL – Yeah, I’ll say. Let’s break this down: Obama saw the influence of lobbyists during his two little years in Washington, so he wanted to “take a different approach” to fundraising (cough) – which, as I noted before, now includes collecting cash from state lobbyists.  This, in spite of the fact that as a state senator in Illinois for 8 years, surely he had to have seen the influence lobbyists had/have over state politicians – and what even the taint of having a lobbyist associated with a politician had to look like.  Surely he knew this, because he took big money from them.

Obama’s “disdain” for lobbyists hasn’t stopped him from having – you guessed it – state lobbyists play prominent roles in his campaign.  For example, former SC governor Jim Hodges is Obama’s national co-chair.  Jim Hodges is also the founder of Hodges Consulting Group, a state-based lobbying firm, and is a registered federal lobbyist.  Some other state lobbyists playing the role in the BO campaign (via the MSNBC piece) include:

Obama’s co-chair in New Hampshire, Jim Demers, is a state based lobbyist for the pharmaceutical and financial services industries amongst others.   Michael Bauer, a member of Obama’s LGBT steering committee, is a state based lobbyist in Chicago. And in Nevada, Obama’s campaign also has three state based lobbyists who play[ed] senior advising roles in August last year.

Again, the response from the BO campaign was laughable:

When asked by reporters on the call why Hodges could work with the campaign even though he is a lobbyist, campaign manager, David Plouffe, said the campaign’s policy for limiting lobbyists’ influence applied to taking money only from federal registered lobbyists and PACs.

Got that? So Obama can decry lobbyists all day long, but when he does, remember he’s supposedly only talking about “federal lobbyists” – not state lobbyists.  Barack Obama, by the way, denied in a debate last month that Jim Demers was a pharma lobbyist, in spite of the fact that it was the truth.

How does the O-man justify taking money from state lobbyists?

"Because I have no power in this state, so I’m not influenced in any way by somebody who’s lobbying at the state level,” he told NBC’s Sacramento affiliate in August. “The main thing that we’re trying to avoid is any perception that somehow those who are doing business in Washington have an influence on my agenda."

And we know state and national interests never intersect, right?  This is how BO gets to present himself as “above it all” – by defining what he’s talking about when he says “lobbyist.”

The WaPo fact check article I referenced in my initial post talked about how Obama took loads of money from people who pay and/or represent special interests, like law firms and hedge funds.  This April 2007 LA Times piece explains:

While pledging to turn down donations from lobbyists themselves, Sen. Barack Obama raised more than $1 million in the first three months of his presidential campaign from law firms and companies that have major lobbying operations in the nation’s capital.

Portraying himself as a new-style politician determined to reform Washington, Obama makes his policy clear in fundraising invitations, stating that he takes no donations from "federal lobbyists." His aides announced last week he was returning $43,000 to lobbyists who donated to his campaign.

But the Illinois Democrat’s policy of shunning money from lobbyists registered to do business on Capitol Hill does not extend to lawyers whose partners lobby there.

Nor does the ban apply to corporations that have major lobbying operations in Washington. And the prohibition does not extend to lobbyists who ply their trade in such state capitals as Springfield, Ill.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Sacramento, though some deal with national clients and issues.

"Clearly, the distinction is not that significant," said Stephen Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on campaign issues.

"He gets an asterisk that says he is trying to be different," Weissman said. "But overall, the same wealthy interests are funding his campaign as are funding other candidates, whether or not they are lobbyists."


Obama said in his first-quarter financial report that he received money from 104,000 donors, twice as many as Clinton, suggesting a disproportionate number of small contributions. But the Campaign Finance Institute said Obama still received 68% of his money from donations of $1,000 or more, compared with 86% for Clinton.

But hey, c’mon, a state lobbyist is different from a federal lobbyist, right?:

While refusing money directly from federal lobbyists, who get their income from clients, Obama takes money from those clients. In the first quarter of 2007, he accepted a combined $170,000 from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, two financial services giants that have numerous issues pending in Washington and spent a total of $4.6 million on lobbying in 2006.

And this:

Obama’s biggest single source of corporate money, $160,000,  came from executives at Exelon Corp., the nation’s largest nuclear power provider, and its subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison, an Illinois utility.

Exelon spent $500,000 to influence policy in Washington last year. Although Obama took no money from Exelon’s Washington lobbyists, he accepted $1,000 checks from lobbyists John P. Novak and James Monk of Springfield. In Springfield, Novak represents Exelon., and Monk is president of the Illinois Energy Assn., a trade group that represents Commonwealth Edison.

Monk and Novak said they do not lobby in Washington. But their clients care about federal issues, including where to store nuclear waste and what restrictions to place on coal-fired plants.


Lobbyists from other states also gave Obama money. In California, Obama accepted $2,300 from a partner whose lobbying firm represents AT&T, United Airlines and the Recording Industry Assn. of America in Sacramento.

In Tallahassee, Obama held a fundraiser attended by several statehouse lobbyists, taking checks from lobbyists for trial attorneys, the insurance industry, fast-food chains and sugar cane growers. State and federal issues often are related, as noted by the law firm Akerman Senterfitt, whose Florida-based members donated $7,000 to Obama. On its website, Akerman notes it combines Tallahassee connections with "an involved federal political action committee" to provide its clients "with an enviable level of access."

Oops.  But wait a minute, ST! you might say.  None of that proves that Obama will be beholden to those special interests.  He’s just taken their money, that’s all.  First things first, no lobbyist will give you a big amount of cash unless they’ve been led to believe that they’ll get some influence out of it.  Secondly, take a closer look at that Exelon contribution to see how he can be influenced by special interest money … and how he can lie about his “accomplishments” at the same time (which is what he did when he told Iowans he had passed a bill on nuclear legislation requiring notification to the authorities immediately if there was a leak – something that didn’t actually happen).

Regarding his (non-transparent) contributions of $200 or less, which constitute over $47 million to his campaign, that’s obviously very impressive, but over $92,000,000 has contributed by the $201+ donors, with $49 million of that being $2000+ donors.

As I noted earlier, my intent isn’t to make BO out to be this evil Washington ogre, but instead to prove that he’s no stranger to how the game works.  He’s not a Washington outsider, and outside of being charming and eloquent, is not that different that most other Washington politicians and his agenda is pretty much standard fare for his side of the aisle.  Dazzling smile and killer speeches aside, Barack Obama is a half term US Senator who served 8 years in the Illinois state senate, and who has gotten where he is today with an incredible amount of luck and smarts – and help, and not just from “the people,” but from big money, too.  

When BO tells people in his speeches, on the networks, at debates, and in “his” emails that his campaign is responsible “only to the people,” it’s not just mere hyperbole (which his campaign is full of, incidentally), it’s an outright lie.

Related reading: "When backing Barack feels like joining a cult" (via Memeo)

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