Barack Obama wants people to think he’s the anti-lobbyist candidate, and runs around the country dissing both Hillary Clinton and John McCain for supposedly being “beholden” to lobbyists. However, as with most things he says, the rhetoric doesn’t match reality. I’ve documented his hypocrisy on this issue numerous times, but Newsweek reported something today that pretty much seals the deal on just how hypocritical and duplicitous the Obama campaign has been on this issue:
When Illinois utility Commonwealth Edison wanted state lawmakers to back a hefty rate hike two years ago, it took a creative lobbying approach, concocting a new outfit that seemed devoted to the public interest: Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity, or CORE. CORE ran TV ads warning of a “California-style energy crisis” if the rate increase wasn’t approved—but without disclosing the commercials were funded by Commonwealth Edison. The ad campaign provoked a brief uproar when its ties to the utility, which is owned by Exelon Corp., became known. “It’s corporate money trying to hoodwink the public,” the state’s Democratic Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said. What got scant notice then—but may soon get more scrutiny—is that CORE was the brainchild of ASK Public Strategies, a consulting firm whose senior partner is David Axelrod, now chief strategist for Barack Obama.
Last week, Obama hit John McCain for hiring “some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington” to run his campaign; Obama’s aides say their candidate, as a foe of “special interests,” has refused to take money from lobbyists or employ them. Neither Axelrod nor his partners at ASK ever registered as lobbyists for Commonwealth Edison—and under Illinois’s loose disclosure laws, they were not required to. “I’ve never lobbied anybody in my life,” Axelrod tells NEWSWEEK. “I’ve never talked to any public official on behalf of a corporate client.” (He also says “no one ever denied” that Edison was the “principal funder” of his firm’s ad campaign.)
But the activities of ASK (located in the same office as Axelrod’s political firm) illustrate the difficulties in defining exactly who a lobbyist is. In 2004, Cablevision hired ASK to set up a group similar to CORE to block a new stadium for the New York Jets in Manhattan. Unlike Illinois, New York disclosure laws do cover such work, and ASK’s $1.1 million fee was listed as the “largest lobbying contract” of the year in the annual report of the state’s lobbying commission. ASK last year proposed a similar “political campaign style approach” to help Illinois hospitals block a state proposal that would have forced them to provide more medical care to the indigent. One part of its plan: create a “grassroots” group of medical experts “capable of contacting policymakers to advocate for our position,” according to a copy of the proposal. (ASK didn’t get the contract.) Public-interest watchdogs say these grassroots campaigns are state of the art in the lobbying world. “There’s no way with a straight face to say that’s not lobbying,” says Ellen Miller, director of the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes government transparency.
The importance and significance of this news cannot be overstated. Axelrod isn’t just some low-level aide or advisor for the Obama campaign; he’s its chief strategist – the brains behind it the whole thing. I should also note that Axelrod is the same chief strategist who ran Deval Patrick’s successful 2006 campaign for Massachusetts governor and who apparently thought it was ok for Obama to “borrow” some of Patrick’s 2006 campaign rhetoric.
We’ve all heard Obama repeatedly say, whether it’s on the stump, in a victory speech, or in interviews, how much he decries the influence of lobbyists. He and his campaign have been dogging McCain for the last couple of weeks on this issue because McCain was engaged in “purging” his campaign of anyone who could be considered a lobbyist or tied to lobbying, instead of being engaged in something more meaningful, like oppo research that could have lead to the discovery of the news that Newsweek broke this weekend. Yet Obama’s own chief strategist, the guy behind Obama’s message, is the senior partner for a consulting firm that does the very thing the O-man claims to detest.
The Captain gets to the heart of the matter:
Obama has run on health-care issues to create universal health-insurance coverage to do exactly the opposite of what ASK proposed. Axelrod’s firm wanted to set up another phony front group to oppose that same policy, attempting to fake the public into thinking that the “grassroots” effort had nothing to do with the hospitals themselves. Axelrod’s firm had so much success with their front group for the energy company that they planned to duplicate the same dishonest structure in health care — and in both cases, on behalf of opponents of Obama’s professed policies today.
Axelrod says he isn’t a lobbyist because he doesn’t do business in DC, but Exelon certainly does, as Newsweek points out. Exelon execs have pumped almost a quarter-million dollars into Obama’s campaign, too. The state of New York considers ASK a lobbying firm, too. More importantly, the business ethics of his firm call into serious question Obama’s pledge of “New Politics”. Is he serious, or is this merely another Axelrod public-relations Trojan Horse?
I wrote earlier that all of the brouhaha over lobbyists is overblown and ridiculous. Lobbyists exist to represent citizens before Congress, an exercise explicitly protected by the First Amendment. However, Obama’s campaign decided to make this an overarching theme, and now they can live with the consequences. Will Obama fire Axelrod, or will he admit that he has been a hypocrite for questioning McCain for his connection to lobbyists — lobbyists who didn’t resort to creating fraudulent front groups for their clients?
Obama’s rhetoric on lobbyists: Just words? Just speeches?
Related: Jake Tapper catches Obama in another “oopsie” moment:
On Thursday Obama told the Orlando Sentinel that he would meet with Chavez and “one of the obvious high priorities in my talks with President Hugo Chavez would be the fermentation of anti-American sentiment in Latin America, his support of FARC in Colombia and other issues he would want to talk about.”
OK, so a strong declaration that Chavez is supporting FARC, which Obama intends to push him on.
But then on Friday he said any government supporting FARC should be isolated.
“We will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments,” he said in a speech in Miami. “This behavior must be exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation, and – if need be – strong sanctions. It must not stand.”
So he will meet with the leader of a country he simultaneously says should be isolated? Huh?
On Friday in an interview with the Miami Herald, Obama also used language suggesting that he’s not as positive that Venezuela is supporting FARC.
“When I asked him what he would do about the estimated 37,000 Interpol-certified Colombian FARC guerrilla computer files that indicate an active support from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to the Colombian rebels, Obama went farther than the Bush administration,” wrote the Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer.
Said Obama: “I think the Organization of American States and the international community should launch an immediate investigation into this situation. We have to hold Venezuela accountable if, in fact, it is trying to ferment terrorist activities in other borders. If Venezuela has violated those rules, we should mobilize all the countries to sanction Venezuela and let them know that that’s not acceptable behavior.”
“If” Venezuela “is trying to ferment terrorist activities in other borders”? Just one day before Obama had asserted that Chavez was supporting FARC in Colombia.
Make sure to read the rest of it, as Tapper asked for and received a spinolicious response from the Obama campaign.