With Lobbyist Donors, Obama Lets Himself Off on a Technicality
Published October 28, 2011
One of the places where Barack Obama scored big points on John McCain in 2008 was in casting himself as a squeaky-clean outsider and McCain as a Washington swamp-dweller surrounded by lobbyists.
“They will not work in my White House,” Obama often intoned of lobbyists. But, over time, dozens of former lobbyists came to work for the administration. As Washington Examiner lobbyist lacerator Tim Carney observed, this prompted Obama to adopt a new phrasing of the old pledge: “We’ve excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs.”
What Obama meant was that he had turned away many lobbyists, but that becomes clear only after parsing the phrase. He didn’t say “all” or “every,” so the statement was technically true, if very misleading.
And so it is with Obama fundraising. The Obama campaign has long touted the fact that registered lobbyists are not permitted to give money to the campaign or bring their besmirching presence to any of the commander in chief’s frequent fundraisers.
The campaign, though, has long had a work around for these folks. After the president clears the room or before he arrives, the Democratic National Committee can set up another fundraiser in the same spot and ushers the check-wielding lobbyists through the back door. That money can help build the president’s ground forces, run attack ads on Republicans and fund state offices, but the Obama campaign can still technically say that the president himself doesn’t accept money from lobbyists.
But an even neater bit of legalism comes on the definition of what a “lobbyist” is. The president won’t take money from registered lobbyists, but those who are “strategic advisers” to clients hoping to have an influence on “government affairs” are as welcome as they can be.
One of the biggest failures of the ethics effort in Washington is that being a registered lobbyist has become passé.
Yes, the staffers and mid-level folks who ferry paperwork back and forth between associations and Hill hearing rooms or who seek regulatory rewrites on abstruse agency issues are registered, photographed and placed on something akin to Washington’s sex-offender registry.
It’s a list nobody wants to be on, in part because of Obama’s own campaign rhetoric, but also from decades of weasely practices by lobbyists and politicians. Nobody in either party ever considering running for office wants to have “lobbyist” on their resume. That’s why defeated politicians like former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle take jobs with law firms that have lobbying practices and act as advisers to lobbying clients but don’t register as lobbyists, per se. They can peddle influence but don’t need to go in the black book as long as they are not doing the shoe-leather work, which they wouldn’t do anyway.
Obama provides another incentive to Democratic influence sellers to stay off the books with his fundraising rules.
The New York Times reports today that at least 15 of these unregistered lobbyists are among the ranks of Obama’s most important donors, big givers who then go raise more money from others. They are known in Washington as “bundlers,” and so far they have added more than $5 million to the president’s re-election campaign.
WHY WOULD MICHELLE OBAMA ATTEND A FUNDRAISER AT HOME OF FORMER ENRON EXECUTIVE?
October 27, 2011
Drawing the ire of Democrats, First Lady Michelle Obama will attend a Houston fundraiser on November 1, at the home of a former Enron executive. John Arnold, billionaire and former Enron trader, is part of an organization pushing to convert public pensions — including teachers, police, firefighters and others — to 401(k)-style plans.
Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, called the 401(k) proposal “very frightening for teachers.” She noted the nose dive many retirement plans took in the stock market in 2008, saying, “What if I was retired and that happened?”
“My people supported Obama big-time in 2008,” Fallon said. “This is not helping.”
President Obama has made support for teachers a centerpiece of his push for the American Jobs Act. He also has the support of the National Education Association.
The pension battle also is happening in Texas, although it’s not clear that Arnold is involved or helping to finance it. The Texans for Public Pension Reform want a constitutional amendment eliminating public pensions in the state in favor of a new system — like a 401(k), according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Meanwhile, Arnold’s support for the California pension campaign has Houston Democrats questioning why the Obama camp would risk such an alliance.
The Obama campaign told Politico that Arnold is a supporter and said the Nov. 1 fundraiser, where tickets start at $10,000, is still set to take place.