Politics & Policy

Lobbying for Obama

Media misses.

Incredulous, easy-to-debunk claims of presidential candidates are often subjected to fierce media scrutiny. In the case of Obama, however, the media has been suspiciously negligent.

Supremely confident of his intractable media support, a carefree Obama conceals his contradictions and weak positions with blanket statements, effectively misrepresenting the truth, distorting his record to make it more favorable, or sweeping criticisms under the rug. And a starry-eyed media smiles and nods.

Nowhere is this more obvious than Obama’s stance on the all-purpose Washington villains known as lobbyists. “I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over. I have done more than any other candidate in this race to take on lobbyists — and won. They have not funded my campaign, they will not run my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am president,” Obama said at a speech in Iowa last November.

Of course, Obama left out a number of caveats. According to his campaign’s de facto standards, taking money from state and municipal lobbyists is acceptable, employing “former” lobbyists on the campaign is okay, as is having lobbyists as unpaid advisers, and taking money from lobbyists wives is acceptable. The Center for Responsive Politics has reported that Obama has taken $85,000 directly from state and municipal lobbyists or the family members of federal lobbyists.

Notable exceptions aside, Obama’s real prestidigitation is still more impressive. When Obama says he hasn’t taken money from lobbyists, what he means to say is that he hasn’t taken money directly from the bank accounts of registered lobbyists. He’s taken lots and lots of money from lobbyists who are out actively raising money from others on his behalf. The practice of using well-connected individuals to raise money from groups of people is known as “bundling.” The fact that he has plenty of lobbyists working as bundlers for his campaign wouldn’t seem to make him any less beholden than if he’d taken their personal checks. If anything, it’s actually less transparent.

New Federal Election Commission regulations would guard against this kind of equivocation in campaigns by requiring that candidates explicitly disclose when they employ lobbyists as bundlers. However, the new regulations have been stalled because the FEC requires that four people serve on the commission for the commission to take any action (including the enactment of the new regulations).Currently, only two people serve, and the Democratic congress refuses to approve any of the Bush administration’s appointees (or at least, that’s the conventional wisdom. One might also note that Obama personally placed a hold on Hans von Spakovsky, the most recent nominee for a position on the FEC. (Von Spakovsky has since withdrawn his name.))

Could a functioning FEC force a number of formal disclosures for the Obama campaign? So far we don’t know, and aren’t likely to know before Election Day given how long the FEC has been held up.

All in all, Obama has some 14 registered Federal lobbyists bundling money for his campaign. But whether they’re “lobbyists,” however selectively Obama wishes to define it, is almost beside the point. Let’s just look more broadly at some of the people we know who are working as bundlers for Obama’s campaign:

‐ Peter Bynoe has pledged to raise between $100,000 and $200,000 for the senator. Bynoe was an Illinois state lobbyist who is on the federal government’s list of people who helped raise money for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich through Chicago political rainmaker Tony Rezko. When he wasn’t helping Obama with his shady housing purchase, Rezko was busy arranging for kickbacks for Blagojevich’s wife and other senior officials in Blagojevich’s administration, which has also been the target of a number of unrelated Federal corruption investigations.

‐ Mike Bauer has pledged to raise between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama. Another Illinois state lobbyist, Bauer was suspended from practicing law for improperly taking $300,000 from a family trust fund. According to the Chicago Tribune, “During the same time he was taking money from the trust fund, his donations to national and local candidates totaled $300,000.” But Obama didn’t take issue with Bauer’s unethical conduct or distance him from the campaign. “Mike has been a leader in the community and a good supporter of our campaign and many others. He is working through this difficult, private challenge with his family, and we wish them well,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton told the Tribune.

Other notable bundlers include former registered lobbyist and defense attorney Howard Gutman, who in 2001 represented Susan Rosenberg a member of Bill Ayers’s domestic terror group the Weather Underground, someone who was “Lobbyist of the Year” in 2006. And there are a few more influential bundlers that seem problematic, despite the fact that they haven’t been afflicted with the lobbyist pox:

‐ Greg Craig has pledged to raise between $100,000 and $200,000 for Barack Obama, and is a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. He’s a partner in a Washington law firm and is currently defending Pedro Miguel González, a Noriega supporter and the president of Panama’s legislature. González is a fugitive under federal indictment for the murder of U.S. Army Sgt. Zak Hernández Laporte shortly before President George H.W. Bush’s visit to Panama in 1992. Craig was also the personal attorney of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan during the Oil-For-Food corruption scandal, and has also represented would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley.

‐ Jodi Evans of the radical anti-war group CODEPINK has pledged to raise $50,000 to $100,000 for Obama. Even by the standards of the radical left, CODEPINK is known as being especially shrill and annoying. The feminist group is known for actively trying to drive military recruiters out of Berkeley, California, and regularly disrupting congressional hearings on the war. Evans is particularly objectionable – she claims that women in Iraq were better off under Saddam and calls the invasion of Iraq “global testosterone poisoning.”

‐ Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has pledged to raise $100,000 for Obama. An early Obama supporter, Giannoulias has hosted fundraisers for Obama and given $7,000 to Obama’s senate campaign since 2003. As a senior loan officer at his family’s Broadway bank in Chicago, it came to light that Giannoulias had loaned millions to Michael Giorango, a convicted bookmaker and prostitution ring promoter. Giannoulias said the loans were approved before he became a full-time bank employee – then the Chicago Tribune reported that Giannoulias personally oversaw $11.8 million in mortgage loans to Giorango in 2005. In his defense, Giannoulias said Broadway Bank “Never Financed Any Casinos. We Never Did Anything Like That.” You can guess where this is headed: “But newly obtained records show that $3.6 million of the recent loans were used by Giorango and another convicted felon to acquire a casino boat marina in Myrtle Beach, S.C.,” reported the Tribune.

The above sampling of problematic Obama fundraisers alone provides an ample array of stories with which the media could run. Instead, a tendentiously pro-Obama media has focused its attention on a McCain adviser, Charlie Black, who recently left the McCain campaign because of voluntarily imposed standards about having lobbyists on paid positions on the campaign, the New York Times reported it this way:

…some party leaders said they were worried about signs of disorder in his campaign, and if the focus in the last several weeks on the prominent role of lobbyists in Mr. McCain’s inner circle might undercut the heart of his general election message: that he is a reformer taking on special interests in Washington.

Ostensibly, the Times approach is justified by the “prominent” role of lobbyists in McCain’s campaign, or so they say. Nonetheless is it too much to ask that the candidate of “change,” the “reformer taking on special interests in Washington” be held to the same standard?

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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