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The Secret Money Machine

There has always been a disconnect between the rhetoric of the Obama campaign and its fundraising operation. Far from being a grass-roots effort on behalf of "the people," Obama is in fact tapping the same wealthy donor base that he decries as "insiders" and "special interests" as Establishment presidential candidates past and present.

What's worse is the campaign's willful deception in, among other areas, its e-mail solicitations to the Net crowd in which the rhetoric of a citizens' campaign is laid on thick, even as the Obama works hard to keep his top-dollar fundraisers secret and out of the press.

Now some hard data and quality reporting is in that illustrates the reality of Obama's fundraising - and not just the fat cats behind it, but how the campaign has at once declared it won't accept money from lobbyists even as it accepts money from lobbyists.

1. "Some of Obama's K Street boosters keep their support a secret to uphold Obama's image as a Washington outsider untainted by D.C.'s influence," The Hill reports.

"When Obama declared his presidential candidacy in February, he said he would re-engage Americans disenchanted with business-as-usual in Washington who had turned away from politics.

"'And as people have looked away in disillusionment and frustration, we know what's filled the void,' said Obama. 'The cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who've turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter; they think they own this government, but we're here today to take it back. The time for that politics is over. It's time to turn the page.'

"In a fundraising e-mail distributed yesterday, Obama emphasized his stance against taking money from lobbyists and PACs.

"Two lobbyists who are supporting another candidate and spoke to The Hill on condition of anonymity said that Obama's campaign contacted them asking to be put in touch with their networks of business clients and acquaintances.

"One of the lobbyists, who supports Clinton, said that Shomik Dutta, a fundraiser for Obama's campaign, called to ask if the lobbyist's wife would be interested in making a political contribution.

"'I was quite taken aback,' he said. 'He was very direct in saying that you're a lobbyist and we don't want contributions from lobbyists. But your wife can contribute and we like your network.'"

2. Last week, The New York Times reported that "Obama . . . has told some donors that their support enables him to run a new kind of campaign by refusing fundraising help from federal lobbyists. But a list of his top fundraisers released over the weekend shows that his campaign has defined the term in a way that allows him to accept contributions from people who were federal lobbyists at the start of his campaign.

"One of the best-known Democratic donors on his list of 130 top fundraisers, Alan Solomont, was registered as a federal lobbyists as recently as the last filing period for such registration, at the end of 2006.

"Mr. Solomont, who helped raise more than $35 million for Senator John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, founded a nursing home and assisted living company. During the Clinton administration, some Republicans claimed that he had used his clout as a fundraiser to argue against tougher regulations of nursing homes.

"Last year, he reported more than $90,000 in income from lobbying the federal government about Medicare and Medicaid.

"In an interview, Mr. Solomont said he had withdrawn his lobbyist registration as soon as he signed on as a fundraiser for Mr. Obama."

3. The Los Angeles Times reports that "the same wealthy interests are funding his campaign as are funding other candidates, whether or not they are lobbyists."

The Times reports that Obama has said in his e-mail solicitations that 'It may sound strange for a presidential candidate to launch a fundraising drive that isn't about dollars. But our democracy shouldn't be about money, and it's time our campaigns weren't either.'

"In another e-mail seeking money, Obama decried the 'special interest industry in Washington' and warned it would spend more money than ever to 'try to own our political process.'

"'We're not going to play that game,' the e-mail said."

The campaign has all but admitted, though, that its position is all about symbolism, not substance.

"This ban is part of Obama's best effort to address the problem of money in politics," spokesman Bill Burton told the Times. "It isn't a perfect solution to the problem and it isn't even a perfect symbol. But it does reflect that Obama shares the urgency of the American people to change the way Washington operates."

Um, okay.

"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," the Times reports.

ComEd, of course, is also one of the biggest supporters of Emil Jones, whom Barack Obama calls his political mento and who just used a parliamentary maneuver to keep the utility's controversial rate hike on track.

(The Rockford Register Star says: ComEd has been one of Jones' top two campaign contributors. In 2005, according to Crain's Chicago Business, Jones was the guest of honor at a fundraiser at the home of ComEd President Frank Clark. Crain's reported that the event generated about $127,000 in donations for Jones' campaign, with at least $78,000 of the contributions coming from dozens of executives and board members with ComEd and parent company Exelon Corp., as well as ComEd and power industry lobbyists.")

"Exelon spent $500,000 to influence policy in Washington last year," the L.A. Times report says. "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.

"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.'"

And that's not all.

"On May 2, Obama is scheduled to attend a $2,300-per-ticket breakfast 10 blocks from the Capitol," the Times says. "The hosts include 22 lawyers. Although they are not federal lobbyists, three in the past have been registered lobbyists; they all work at firms that have Washington lobbying operations or hire outside lobbying firms to contact lawmakers.

"Lobbyists at the law firms where the lawyers work billed lobbying clients a combined $19 million in 2006, according to PoliticalMoneyLine. Clients include defense contractors, energy producers, healthcare interests, pharmaceutical manufacturers and tobacco companies.

"One lawyer co-hosting the Obama event has represented companies fending off litigation over toxic waste cleanup, and another represents employers on affirmative action requirements, force reduction and early retirement programs, their firms' websites say.

"Attorney Robert Sussman, one of the organizers, said in an interview that he was a registered lobbyist until recently, when he decided to help Obama raise money. So that he might do so, he said, the campaign requested that he drop his registration.

"'This is a policy that they felt would be consistent with their values and their beliefs. I take no position on the wisdom,' Sussman said. 'I decided whatever small inconvenience that was created [by ceasing lobbying] was more than outweighed by helping the candidate.'"

*

For more of the Beachwood's coverage of Obama, check out the Obamathon collection.



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Posted on April 24, 2007


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