Barack Obama has spent most of the last 15 months conjuring up a myth, a facade of “New Politics” to explain why voters should support someone with only three years of experience in national politics for President. This myth involves having hope that someone unencumbered by a long history of engaging special interests in Washington DC would bring a fresh look to policy and governance. Unfortunately, the veneers keeps getting peeled back– and we find the reality of the myth:
“Nothing’s changed,” Sen. Barack Obama says into the camera, “except now Exxon’s making $40 billion a year, and we’re paying $3.50 for gas. … I don’t take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won’t let them block change anymore.”
Obama’s ad, which has been airing in Pennsylvania as the April 22 primary approaches, is technically true but misleading, as non-partisan FactCheck.org and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign have been quick to point out.
It’s accurate that Obama doesn’t take money from oil companies; neither do his opponents, because corporate contributions are illegal. But Obama, like Clinton and John McCain, has accepted donations from oil and gas company employees — $222,309 in Obama’s case from donors from Exxon, Shell, Chevron and others, according to campaign-finance data. Two oil company CEOs have pledged to raise at least $50,000 each as part of Obama’s fundraising team.
Obama’s team tried a Clintonian parsing of the term “lobbyists”. They told USA Today that Obama’s claim is technically true because they don’t take money from oil company PACs. The impression his commercials leave, however, is that he doesn’t take money from the industry at all. Besides, why would a PAC need to contribute to his campaign when industry CEOs bundle five and six figures for him? No one seriously believes that a lobbyist would have better access than the titans who run the industry.
Obama offers a well-constructed lie based on the thinnest of partial truths. He wants us to believe that oil companies conduct themselves in destructive manners, and yet partners with the people who run them to get himself elected. Putting aside the mindless populism of demonizing oil companies, the hypocrisy here is obvious and laughable. If the industry is so evil and destructive, why associate himself with their CEOs at all, let alone make them part of his campaign?
As far as “lobbyists”, Obama has a very flexible definition here as well. He has raised over $125,000 from Greenberg Traurig, one of DC’s biggest lobbying firms, during this campaign. Greenberg is better known as Jack Abramoff’s lobbying firm, which found itself at the center of multiple federal crimes in regards to Abramoff’s dealings with members of Congress. He staged a fundraising reception in their Miami offices, which makes it pretty darned difficult to see how Obama has eschewed lobbyists in his “New Politics” campaign.
And as it turns out, this is a flat-out lie anyway:
Barack Obama often boasts he is “the only candidate who isn’t taking a dime from Washington lobbyists,” yet his fundraising team includes 38 members of law firms that were paid $138 million last year to lobby the federal government, records show.
Those lawyers, including 10 former federal lobbyists, have pledged to raise at least $3.5 million for the Illinois senator’s presidential race. Employees of their firms have given Obama’s campaign $2.26 million, a USA TODAY analysis of campaign-finance data shows.
Thirty-one of the 38 are law firm partners, who typically receive a share of their firms’ lobbying fees. At least six of them have some managerial authority over lobbyists.
Team Obama’s response? The pledge that he won’t take lobbyist money “isn’t a perfect solution”. Does anyone recall Obama saying “I’ll try not to take lobbyist money”?
This isn’t New Politics, it’s the same old drizzly effluvium that machine politicians use to hoodwink voters. At least by the time most of them run for high public office, they have a track record that allows voters to excuse the contradictions between their rhetoric and their alliances. Obama doesn’t even have that — in fact, has no executive experience at all. His rhetoric about rising above petty politics and the connected microparsing of “lobbyist” and “oil companies” is all he has, and it shouldn’t be enough to run for President.