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Obama Brings on Top Lobbyist

Obama and Hillary Clinton discussed the influence of health care lobbyists at an August forum. (AP).

Former Dick Gephardt presidential campaign adviser Moses Mercado hasn't even joined the Barack Obama presidential campaign team and already he's making waves.

Mercado, a veteran field man who organized Gephardt's primary operations in Arizona and New Mexico, and later John Kerry's general election operations there, confirmed he is finalizing plans to serve as a senior adviser to the Obama campaign.

The waves are being generated by Mercado's other line of work -- as a lobbyist with Ogilvy Government Relations who is registered to represent several dozen big-name clients, including the National Rifle Association, the Carlyle Group, the Blackstone Group, Monsanto, Pfizer Inc., United Health Group, Sempra Energy and Constellation Energy.

His resume seems to contradict one of Obama's central themes on the campaign trail -- that as an outsider he can fend of the powerful business interests that he has argued have contributed to the income gap between rich and poor and has frustrated attempts to address issues such as high prescription drug costs and global warming.

In a speech he gave in New Hampshire back in June, Obama singled out the role of lobbyists in the process. As the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, Obama "sought to make the case that the culture of influence in Washington affects the pocketbooks of Americans in myriad ways, from drug prices to student-loan interest rates -- both of which, he argued, are inflated through industry manipulation of public policy."

The story went on to quote Obama, saying: "What's most outrageous is not the morally offensive conduct on behalf of these lobbyists and legislators, but the morally offensive laws and decisions that get made as a result."

The Obama campaign said they have not settled on exactly what role Mercado will play, but he will not take on any job until he has ceased his lobbying work. Obama aides said yesterday no one can work on the campaign and still be registered on behalf of clients as a lobbyist, and Mercado will not be exempted from that requirement.

Mercado, who is close with Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, said his recent work as a lobbyist will not impede his ability to participate in a presidential campaign. He confirmed he would be taking a leave from Ogilvy, though the timing and temrs have not yet been ironed out.

"First and foremost, I'm an American and I participate in the process," he said. "That's the most important thing. I've always been involved in the process. That's why I'm going to be leaving [Ogilvy], so that there isn't any question."

He said he was surprised anyone would take issue with his involvement. "I'm kind of honored that people are worried that I'm going to go work for Obama. It's good for the ego, I guess."

--Matthew Mosk

By Post Editor  |  September 28, 2007; 8:00 AM ET
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