Obama Skirts Own Fundraising Rules as Small Donors Flee

Friday, 28 Oct 2011 01:23 PM

By Martin Gould

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President Barack Obama is getting round his self-imposed ban on accepting campaign donations from registered lobbyists – by accepting it from unregistered lobbyists instead.

A New York Times analysis of the president’s fundraising shows that huge amounts are coming in from at least 15 bundlers who are tied to K Street, but who are not themselves registered.

“Politics as usual has replaced hope and change in politics, policy development, and clearly now fundraising,” Democratic pollster Doug Schoen told Newsmax in the light of the Times piece. “The change we were promised just has not happened.

The Times
says there are at least 15 Obama bundlers who could be considered as lobbyists. These include:
  • Drug company executive Sally Susman, who the Times says “leads Pfizer’s powerful lobbying shop,” yet is not registered with the Senate as a lobbyist. She has raised more than $500,000 and has visited the White House four times;
  • David Cohen, who oversees lobbying for the Comcast Corporation and hosted Obama at a $10,000-a-head fundraiser at his home in Philadelphia. He has also raised at least half a million dollars;
  • Alex Heckler, who founded the Florida consulting company LSN Partners, which boasts of its contacts with “a strong network of lobbying firms.” Heckler’s bio says he “helps clients in all aspects of government affairs and sales; including legislation, procurement, solicitations, contracts, teaming and strategic planning. The Times says Heckler has raised $200,000;”
  • Andy Spahn, former lobbyist for the movie company DreamWorks and chief of staff to former California Gov. Gray Davis, who now runs a government relations company in Los Angeles and whose website talks about his “extensive relationships in Washington, D.C.” He has raised at least $500,000;
  • Michael Kempner, who runs the New Jersey firm MWW Group which advertises its “important relations with both the Democratic and Republican leadership.” Kempner employs seven registered lobbyists, although he is not registered himself. He too has raised at least $500,000.

“Registered or not, the bundlers are in many ways indistinguishable from people who fit the technical definition of a lobbyist,” the newspaper reports.

“They glide easily through the corridors of power in Washington, with a number of them hosting Mr. Obama at fund-raisers while also visiting the White House on policy matters and official business.”

It says that at least four of the bundlers have previously been registered as lobbyists.

Obama is way ahead of all of his potential Republican rivals in the fundraising stakes and is on course to raise between $700 million and $1 billion by the time the election comes round in November 2012. He also has the advantage of not having to spend any of it in bruising primary battles.

But an Associated Press analysis shows that he has lost smaller tens of thousands of smaller grass-roots supporters who donated millions of dollars in 2008, with most of them either staying out of the political donation game this time around, or even going over to the Republican side with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney picking up most.

As a candidate last time round, Obama took the high road and said he would not accept money from lobbyists and would not bring any into his administration. Even now his campaign says it regularly returns checks from registered lobbyists and bars lobbyists from campaign fundraising events.

“We will not take a dime from the special interests. They will not run my party, they will not run the White House and they will not drown out the voice of the American people when I am president of the United States,” he said to a standing ovation during a campaign stop in Bristol, Va. shortly after winning the Democratic nomination.

But his stance was seen to be compromised when he selected Joe Biden as his running mate. Biden, at the time the senior senator from Delaware, had close ties with credit card companies that had set up headquarters in that state.

And just weeks after the inauguration, Obama’s first choice as Health and Human Services Secretary, former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew after coming under attack for failing to register as a lobbyist while working as a strategic adviser to clients that were trying to influence government policy.

The Times says that under the law, lobbying is defined as “active” or “direct” contacts meant to influence a public official. But “routine” contacts designed to gather information are excluded.

The White House insists that Obama has not tried to get round his own rules. Campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the Times analysis “misses the forest for the trees.”

“From the first day he announced he was running for president, Barack Obama hasn’t accepted a dime from federal lobbyists or political action committees,” LaBolt said. “He led the way in disclosing major volunteer fundraisers for his campaign, disclosing both the names of the individuals who raise money for the campaign as well as the levels of contributions that they raise.”

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