Team Obama has already begun bragging in messages to supporters that they don’t take money from lobbyists in their campaign to re-elect the President, in an attempt to show that Barack Obama has kept his 2008 campaign promise. That promise got broken in the first days of the Obama presidency, however, as the White House created a slew of “waivers” from Obama’s no-lobbyist appointment policy, including a waiver for working in an agency that the nominee lobbied directly. It got so bad that ABC’s Jake Tapper demanded to see the waiver application forms that the White House used.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that the new claim of purity on lobbyist money comes with a big, fat asterisk — although it might be a surprise to see the New York Times exposing the false claim:
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. …
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.”
As with all of Obama’s Clintonian claims, there is a small fig leaf. The NYT’s Eric Lichtblau points out that Obama’s bundlers are not now registered with the Senate as lobbyists, which allows everyone to claim that, by the most technical definition, these bundlers aren’t lobbyists. Longtime political observers might be excused for feeling a bout of nostalgia — and dyspepsia — from the similarity between this and Bill Clinton’s notorious dodge that his claim (and sworn testimony) to have not had sexual relations with a White House intern rested on the definition of the word is.
And when I say technical, I’m not kidding around. Lichtblau highlights a couple of Obama bundlers who didn’t just lobby in the past, but who currently run lobbying shops for big corporations. David L. Cohen runs the lobbying shop at Comcast, for instance, one of the betes noires of the Net Neutrality crowd, who bundles for Obama at the $500,000 level. Sally Susman has the same job at Pfizer, which Obama should know — since she has personally lobbied at the White House. Twice! Four other bundlers have registered as lobbyists in the past, and more work for well-known lobbying firms like Greenberg Traurig.
When Obama claims not to have had monetary relations with lobbyists, remember that it all depends on the definition of lobbyist, and also the definition of is. And, for that matter, the definition of change, too.