You know it’s blatant when even the NYT is forced to acknowledge it’s an issue.
WASHINGTON (NY Times) — Despite a pledge not to take money from lobbyists,President Obama has relied on prominent supporters who are active in the lobbying industry to raise millions of dollars for his re-election bid.
At least 15 of Mr. Obama’s “bundlers” — supporters who contribute their own money to his campaign and solicit it from others — are involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies. They have raised more than $5 million so far for the campaign.
Because the bundlers are not registered as lobbyists with the Senate, the Obama campaign has managed to avoid running afoul of its self-imposed ban on taking money from lobbyists.
But registered or not, the bundlers are in many ways indistinguishable from people who fit the technical definition of a lobbyist. 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.
As both a candidate and as president, Mr. Obama has vowed to curb what he calls the corrupting influence of lobbyists, barring them not only from contributing to his campaign but also from holding jobs in his administration. While lobbyists grouse about the rules, ethics watchdogs credit the changes with raising ethical standards in Washington.
But the prevalence of major Obama fund-raisers who also work in the lobbying arena threatens to undercut the president’s ethics push, raising questions about whether the campaign’s policies square with its on-the-ground practices, some of those same watchdogs say.
“It’s a legitimate concern,” said Craig Holman, a registered lobbyist for Public Citizen, a nonpartisan ethics group in Washington. “The campaign has to draw the line somewhere, but the reality is that the president is still relying on wealthy special interests and embracing those people in his campaign.”
Take Sally Susman. An executive at the drug-maker Pfizer, she has raised more than $500,000 for the president’s re-election and helped organize a $35,800-a-ticket dinner that Mr. Obama attended in Manhattan in June. At the same time, she leads Pfizer’s powerful lobbying shop, and she has visited the White House four times since 2009 — twice on export issues.
But under the byzantine rules that govern federal lobbying, Ms. Susman has not registered with the Senate as a lobbyist.
Nor has David L. Cohen, who oversees lobbying at the Comcast Corporation and is also a member of Mr. Obama’s exclusive $500,000 bundling club.
At a June fund-raiser in the backyard of his Philadelphia home, Mr. Cohen hosted the president and some 120 guests who paid at least $10,000 each to attend; Mr. Obama called Mr. Cohen and his wife “great friends.”
As a matter of policy, Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign goes beyond what campaign law requires by refusing contributions from any “individual registered as a federal lobbyist.” Registered lobbyists are not even allowed inside his fund-raising events, and the campaign routinely returns checks from those trying to contribute.
Republican candidates, in contrast, have placed no restrictions at all on accepting lobbyists’ money. Mitt Romney had a closed-door fund-raiser just this week in Washington at the American Trucking Associations that was expected to include many K Street lobbyists.