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No Ban on Lobbyists as Advisers for Obama

Updated 7:50 p.m.
By John Solomon
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has made a big deal about the fact that his campaign doesn't accept political donations from Washington lobbyists, and recently declared that "they won't run my White House, and they won't set the agenda in Washington." But that ban doesn't extend to seeking their endorsements, or their advice.

Daniel Shapiro, one of Obama's foreign policy advisers on the Middle East, registered to lobby for several corporate clients in the last year, since leaving the office of Rep. Bill Nelson (D-Fla). Shapiro, who worked during the 1990s for President Bill Clinton's National Security Council, counts some of America's biggest corporate names among his clients, including beermaker Anheuser-Busch, carmaker Daimler Chrysler, the American Petroleum Institute and Freddie Mac.

Obama also recently secured the endorsement of former South Carolina governor Jim Hodges, who now runs a lobbying firm, the Hodges Consulting Group, and is registered himself as a federal lobbyist for Hillenbrand Partners, a Chicago-based company that does business with the Federal Home Loan Bank, according to U.S. Senate lobbying disclosure records. Hodges reported receiving $12,000 from the client in the first half of 2007, the records show. Hodges also signed on as a national co-chair of Obama's campaign and is advising Obama on his southern political strategy.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the candidate does not disqualify Washington lobbyists from from endorsing or advising him. "The way we address this issue is we don't take money from federal lobbyists," Burton said. "It's not a perfect symbol but it's his best effort to show the sort of administration he is going to have."

Hodges and Shapiro aren't the only federal lobbyists inside Obama's campaign. The Washington Post previously reported that Moses Mercado, a veteran political adviser to the likes of Dick Gephardt's former presidential bids, was negotiating last fall to become an adviser to Obama. Mercado was registered in Washington to lobby on behalf of several several corporate clients, including AT&T.

Mercado said today he ultimately decided to skip becoming a paid adviser and instead is volunteering his advice and time in hopes of sidestepping the questions about being a lobbyist on the Obama payroll. Mercado was departing today to Nevada to help Obama with that state's caucuses.

"It actually is better to do it this way. I don't want anything from it," Mercado said. "I wanted to do it for other reasons. I thought he was the right candidate for the country."

As for Obama's frequent criticism of Washington lobbyists, Mercado said, "I don't get sensitive about it. I don't take it personally. What he is trying to do is a good thing. What he wants is some transparency to the process."

A Post review of Obama's payroll, advisers and endorsements found several other Washington lobbyists. Obama staffer Buffy Wicks was registered in 2007 to lobby for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, while two fellow campaign aides were registered in 2006 to lobby for the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress.
Obama's early state coordinator, Steve Hildebrand was registered since 2005 to represent an environmental firm but filed a report terminating his lobbying registration around the time he joined the campaign last January.

Hillary Clinton's campaign, which accepts lobbyists' donations and is now trailing in the polls, has sought to question Obama's commitment to his lobbying ban. In a debate Saturday night in New Hampshire, she noted that Obama's campaign co-chairman in New Hampshire, Jim Demers, is a state-based lobbyist whose clients include pharmaceutical companies. He is not registered at the federal level.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 7, 2008; 7:50 PM ET
 
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Comments

Special Interest Money is Nothing More Than Bribery

Members of Congress have managed to create a seemingly lawful system whereby they can legally accept money from lobbyists or other persons who represent special interest groups that are actively involved in trying to influence those same politicians in future votes. The special interest groups that contribute large sums of money to political campaigns want and expect "their politicians" to enact (or help in some way) legislation that favors the group that provided the money. In America today, we are living under a political system that not only allows, but encourages and condones the legalized bribery of members of congress. That is why I believe "America has the best congress that special interest money can buy."

Compare these two examples:

1. If a known drug dealer gives a police officer in a narcotics enforcement unit a $1,000. "Contribution" for the policeman's ball and says "I hope you consider looking the other way when I'm selling drugs on the corner." Whether or not the police officer takes any kind of official action that benefits the drug dealer, if he accepts the money, he commits the crime of bribery, right?

2. If a lobbyist or member of a special interest group gives a member of congress a $1,000. "Contribution" for his campaign and says: I hope you consider our position on any upcoming votes that affect us." Whether or not the congressmen or Senator takes some kind of official action that benefits that person or organization, if he accepts the money, isn't that still bribery?

Neither of these public servants should be taking money from people or organizations to influence their decisions they will make during the course of performing their official duties. Shouldn't both situations be considered illegal conduct by those involved? Well, not if you are a member of congress. Bribery is defined as "a corrupt activity in which a person offers or receives goods, money, services, etc. to sway a person's opinion, action, or decision." Merely accepting the goods, money, services, etc, is a crime. It is immaterial whether or not the person receiving the benefit, does anything. In the case of members of congress, however, receiving money is only considered to be bribery if the briber explicitly says to the politician (the one being bribed): "I'm giving you this money as payment for a yes or no vote on the house floor tomorrow."

The reality of political life in America today is that politicians are being bribed every day by special interest groups that want them to legislate in a way that benefits them and not the American people. Americans are bearing the brunt of this horrific situation in ways that affect us all every day of our lives. The current campaign finance laws are built on a legal fiction. The legal fiction is that campaign contributions from special interest groups are considered to be legal and within the law even though they are actually bribes. Money given to members of congress by special interest groups is nothing more than "legalized bribery." Through bundled contributions and PAC giving, industries, labor unions, and other special interest groups pay to persuade lawmakers to vote their way on the issues.

No matter how it is said, Special Interest dollars buys votes and it also buys elections. The real scandal in the nation's capitol is that this everyday bribery remains legal. Candidates who please their special interest money donors through their votes, are usually rewarded with more bribes, I mean more campaign contributions. This legalized bribery system has created a "Privileged Oligarchy" made up of selected members of congress and big donor elites from wealthy special interest groups. This oligarchy is currently governing this country and making decisions that oftentimes are not in the best interests of the American people, but rather in favor of the special interest groups.

Our elections should be about what American citizens want, not about what big special interest donors want.

I will support any legislation that defines the receipt of special interest money by members of congress as bribery and therefore illegal.

I also will support legislation that removes the monetary limits on individual contributions to campaigns, as the US Constitution does not give Congress the authority to set such limits because it limits the citizens' free speech rights.

I support the continuation of legislation requiring the full and immediate disclosure of all contributions to Federal election campaigns. No exceptions or loopholes allowed.

Although I do not fully support the concept of government financing of campaigns, the following two pieces of legislation, currently introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives, are a step in the right direction and I would support them as well. They are H.R. 1614 "The Clean Money, Clean Elections Act of 2007" and S.936 "The Fair Elections Now Act."

By:
JOHN W. WALLACE
Candidate for Congress
New York's 20th Congressional District
www.johnwallaceforcongress.com

Posted by: john | March 3, 2008 12:12 AM | Report abuse

Is this supposed to be another example of the "free pass" that the Clinton Campaign continues to allege that Senator Obama is getting from the media?

Some things never change with the Clintons (I seriously doubt if much of anything has changed with either of them). Anytime they get into trouble, whether it is trailing in some poll or finding themselves at the center of yet another scandal, they have to have someone to blame, and more often than not, the media has been part of that "conspiracy" that is out to get the poor Clintons.

Posted by: diksagev | January 8, 2008 5:27 PM | Report abuse

I am a liberal Democrat. I started the campaign happy to support all of the Dem candidates. While I will still support whoever is nominated, I must say if that is Sen Obama I am ashamed to be voting with his supporters I read in these comments. They sound like Republicans.

Posted by: zukermand | January 8, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

It should be noted that Jim Demers, the Obama New Hampshire state co-chair has also been a long time lobbyist for Sub Prime mortgage lenders whose practices have recently been all over the news and the cause of our recent economic downturn.
Demers runs (or until recently ran)an organization called the New England Financial Services Association (NEFSA). The members of this group are the "who is who" of the sub prime lending world. If you want to check it out "google" this organization. Demers office is listed as the phone number for the group. If you also go to State of Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics, lobbyist registration web site, you will see Demers listed as the Principal Contact for the New England Financial Services Association. He has testified and organized widely on behalf of the Sub prime banking industry in the New England states in recent years. This industry has done more to harm lower income and elderly consumer, and the economy overall, than one can imagine. If Sen Obama knew....he would "fire up" on this issue I would imagine. Demers did not have to register as a federal lobbyist to do enough damage. He has been able to accomplish that across the five New England states a state level lobbyist or as head NEFSA, a group that hires those lobbyists.

Posted by: tony | January 8, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

It is utterly absurd to suggest that lobbyists should have no role whatsoever in politics. As a previous poster reminded us---we are all lobbyists here.

Lobbyists are both educators and persuaders. The education role of lobbyists is right and necessary. What Senator Obama has taken a stand against is federal lobbyists having way too much influence over the legislative process. His approach deals with the "persuader" role of lobbyists by going after the role money plays in the process. Money is the issue here.

Posted by: ricknej | January 8, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

John Solomon and the Clinton Campaign....a marriage made in heaven.
This is straight out of the Clinton oppo shop.
This is how the Clintons practice their scorched earth policy of gaining power no matter what it costs the American People or the Democratic Party. All I can say is that they better be careful. It is OBVIOUS who the next President of the United States is going to be, Barack Obama.

Posted by: smcguire27 | January 8, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

The irony is that everyone commenting here is lobbying for something, including me.

I'm glad that Obama isn't accepting donations from lobbyists (which is the most direct and corrupting form of involvement). As for taking advice from people whose profession it is to get better protection for our environment and for workers, well more power to them. We NEED that kind of advice in our government. It's a world of difference between that and Big Oil barons meeting in top-secret with Dick Cheney to divy up the spoils of the Iraqi oil fields, which they were planning to win with the sacrifice of American soldiers and taxpayer $billions. I truly feel sorry for people who cannot see the difference between these two. They are intellectually bankrupt and morally decayed.

Posted by: B2O2 | January 8, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

TennGurl:

You are aware that the last "Morning in America" election was RONALD REAGAN, right? Ironically, your use is essentially the opposite of its original meaning, which sought to assure voters that the economic situation was good and no change (to the Presidency in 1984) should be made.

GO HUCKABEE!!!

Posted by: JakeD | January 8, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Obama's problem is that he is both late to the party and only halfway through the door. Until he ran for president his political career was funded by lobbyists, PACs, and Chicago's Daley machine; he was forced to forego this support in the presidential run because of the presence of John Edwards, who throughout a decade in politics has never taken money from Washington lobbyists and PACs. (Contrast Obama's hedging to Russert with the definitive answer Edwards gave Stephanopolous about whether lobbyists would work in his White House--"No.") Obama has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in "bundled" contributions from Wall Street firms, Exelon (which promotes nuclear energy), and HMO's. According to opensecrets.org, he is #2 on the list of politicans receiving money from HMO's this election season (right behind Hillary Clinton). Yes, Obama makes lovely speeches but in digging deeper many of us have found that there's not much "there" there. Whether it's inexperience, insecurity, or a lack of integrity, this man is not ready to lead the free world. http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2008/01/obama_borrows_f.html

Posted by: LisaOhio | January 8, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Anne9 is I say this respectfully, wrong again (I admire your tenacity for your candidate though. Obama missed 130 votes out of 4000. He sponsored or passed over 800 bills in his last year in the State Senate. He passed or sponsored over 150 bills last year. Smearing candidates and spewing campaign talking points is so 1990's ("the politics of personal destruction"). It's morning in America and time for a new generation of leadership.

Posted by: TennGurl | January 8, 2008 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Such ethical hair splitting coming from the Obama campaign. A sign of an Obama presidency?

Posted by: cab91 | January 8, 2008 7:47 AM | Report abuse

if you want to know something about the candidates...start looking at voting records. Senator Obama missed about a third of the votes in the Illinois Senate. He voted..present ...on a bill that would keep porn shops a certain distance from schools..and was the only one who did this. He was for live birth abortion...if a infant was alive after a third trimester abortion ..it was not to recieve any life saving care...but be left to die. He is the chairman of a sub committee for Foreign Policy in Europe...which includes Afganistan...but has not called a single meeting. He has missed every vote in the Senate since he started campaigning...although other Senators have managed to return for some votes. He says he cant turn over his papers and notes while he was a Senator in Illinois...first denying that he had any...and than saying he gave them to his successor. He states he will not vote for the Patriot Act ...than does. He says he doesnt support the war...and than votes to fund it. He says he does not accept money from lobbyist...but than uses them as his closest advisors. Of course...they wont have any influence over him...wink wink.
I am amazed that so many people continue to be taken in by oratory alone. Hitler was supposedly a great orator...and swayed a country. I am not saying that Senator Obama is Hitler...before you all get in a dizzy. I am saying...words are cheap. Change is action. By the way...you cant change other people...and if you think pretty words are going to influence people in power to hand that power over...you are being led by a pied piper. I dont think how many of you realize how many of our current congressman and woman are currently working across party lines. Change takes time...and it is hard work. I doubt very much whether the Arab countries are gonna be impressed with Semator Obama. I doubt whether they will be impressed with anyone we elect. They only care about their own problems. Just because he can give a great speech...doesnt mean he can accomplish the difficult things that lie ahead for us. Choose wisely. Investigate on your own. Dont be swayed bye glitz and glamor. Check your heart for what you believe. It is wonderful to help other people...but if you cant fund that...we all sink. Corporate America has also done some very good things for us. Dont throw the baby out with the bath water. Everyone needs to be part of this. If you follow Senator Obama blindly....in regards to health care...abortion...foreign policy...you have failed your duties as an American Citizen. Choose wisely the candidate you support.

Posted by: anne9 | January 8, 2008 6:08 AM | Report abuse

The intense scrutiny seems to have barely begun on Sen. Obama. This is just the tip of the iceberg.The media have a way of making you before they break you.

Posted by: LadyEagle | January 8, 2008 2:18 AM | Report abuse

The Obama supporters above are not making sense. The whole reason lobbyist give large sums of money to candidates is in order to be able to influence them and get "face time" with them (a meeting, lunch, etc). If you have lobbyists as advisors then they have accomplished their main goal of getting face time with the candidate without giving any money. In fact, you could argue that their influence is even greater as "advisors" than as lobbyist because you see them as part of your team (having your best interest in mind) and that gives them a HUGE amount of influence.

If you believe that lobbyist serve a purpose and can provide information to a candidate then fine. However, if you believe that lobbyist are the problem, then this is a HUGE problem for you. You cannot have it both ways.

IF you attack HRC for taking money from lobbyist but accept them as consultants to Obama, were they will have a major influence in creating policy, then I will argue that the lobbyist will have MORE influence with Obama than with Clinton.

This folks, is part of the "vetting process". I would still vote for Obama if he becomes the Democratic nominee, but...

Posted by: mcfield | January 8, 2008 2:05 AM | Report abuse

Biden should have never dropped out

Posted by: msfreethinker2 | January 7, 2008 11:28 PM | Report abuse

This is no big deal. Why bring it up? Did the Clintons ask you to? Get over it. There is no dirt out there on Senator Obama. You might want to look at his kindergarten papers again though. Maybe he spelled a word wrong.

Posted by: GraceMN | January 7, 2008 11:13 PM | Report abuse

whine, whine, whine...

think the Republicans won't look into this? Grow up

Posted by: msfreethinker2 | January 7, 2008 11:07 PM | Report abuse

Obama message of hope is trumping Hilary's depressing message of "experience".

Posted by: zbob99 | January 7, 2008 10:27 PM | Report abuse

More pro-Hillary cr*p from the WashPost. Sickening.

Posted by: zbob99 | January 7, 2008 10:24 PM | Report abuse

What a smear! This has HRC's fingerprints all over it: "Hillary Clinton's campaign, which accepts lobbyists' donations and is now trailing in the polls, has sought to question Obama's commitment to his lobbying ban." I'll bet they have. There is nothing inconsistent with Sen. Obama's pledge to have a more transparent administration accepting advice and endorsements. Potential NH losses lead to nattering nabobs of negativity -- funny what desperation will do to a candidate. I am still a supporter of the true agent of change and hope and decency in this race, Sen. Barack Obama.

Posted by: Omyobama | January 7, 2008 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the update.

Posted by: JakeD | January 7, 2008 7:54 PM | Report abuse

John Solomon strikes again! The byline alone throws this otherwise perfectly plausible story completely in doubt.

Posted by: SteveV1 | January 7, 2008 6:45 PM | Report abuse

To be fair, Obama already addressed this on "Meet the Press":

MR. RUSSERT: ..."I will not allow a lobbyist to work in my White House"...

SEN. OBAMA: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: ...and now you've changed on that.

SEN. OBAMA: No, I...

MR. RUSSERT: You said they can work.

SEN. OBAMA: I haven't changed. Look, the terminology may have changed, the, the basic concept remains the same. I am going to break the revolving door that has become so commonplace in this administration and in some previous administrations. If you want to work in my White House, you will not be able to regulate former employers. And if you leave my White House, you will not be able to lobby agencies that you used to work for on behalf of folks that were regulated. That is the revolving door that has to be broken to give the American people confidence in, in their government.

MR. RUSSERT: So if a lobbyist agreed to those terms, they could work in the White House?

SEN. OBAMA: Look, there are people who may have lobbied 10 years ago, 15 years ago. They may be able to render excellent service to the American people as long as they're clear that we want people of integrity and we want this link between you cashing in and you serving in government broken.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22409176/page/5/

Posted by: JakeD | January 7, 2008 6:23 PM | Report abuse

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