Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Barack Obama's Fundraising Hypocrisy—a Lobbyist by Any Other Name...

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Bonnie Erbe

The latest campaign finance figures show Sen. Barack Obama's pledge not to take money from lobbyists is a distinction without a difference.

He clobbered Sen. John McCain in fundraising last month, netting more than twice the amount of money raised by his rival. From Bloomberg:

Obama took in $51.9 million in June, including $1.4 million from a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee, while McCain reported raising $21.5 million, including $5.1 million from his fundraising effort with the Republican National Committee.

But consider whence much of Obama's money comes. While donations to his campaign are not accepted from lobbyists per se, they are proffered by corporate executives. These same executives face a mountain of federal issues on which they will most surely need Obama's help, should he win the White House in November. So what's the difference?

To wit. Bloomberg reported that donors to Obama's joint fundraising committee included Jay Grinney, president and chief executive officer of Birmingham, Ala.-based HealthSouth Corp., who gave $10,000, and Donald Thompson, U.S. chief of Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's Corp., who gave $28,500, the maximum.

As I've noted before, Sen. Obama's fourth-largest corporate donor is Exelon, the nation's largest provider of nuclear power.

Did he take donations straight from the pockets of the company's lobbyists? No. But did he accept largesse in the amount of more than a quarter million dollars from Exelon's CEO and top executives? Yes. In the process, he watered down to oblivion an antinuclear amendment he had sponsored, originally to force nuclear power producers to report even the most negligible of radioactive leaks. He then went on to tell mesmerized campaign audiences he had "passed" his antinuclear bill, which never passed the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign disinvited Democratic war hero and former Sen. Max Cleland to appear at an Obama event in Atlanta earlier this month. Why? Sen. Cleland is a registered lobbyist.

John McCain openly accepts lobbyists' donations. And some voters find that as much of a conflict (because Senator McCain has his name attached to the most important campaign finance reform bill of the last two decades.) The difference between McCain and Obama on this issue is McCain has never pledged not to take lobbyists' donations. He has only pledged to fight to make the process as transparent as possible.

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