By Dennis Byrne; Chicago Tribune; July 7, 2008
David Plouffe, manager of Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, keeps sending me e-mails asking me to cough up money because the presumptive Democratic nominee’s fundraising is, supposedly, as pure as the driven snow. Somehow, my name got on Obama’s list of prospective suckers, and for months I’ve read this song and dance about how he has freed himself from the tentacles of special interests.
This is baloney.
Consider Plouffe’s money pitch that followed Obama’s recent decision not to accept publicly funded campaign money, which means Obama can spend way more than the $84.1 million campaign spending cap—which, by the way, is something the senator promised never to do.
Said Plouffe: “Opting out of public matching funds was an extremely difficult decision and frankly we are at a disadvantage when it comes to raising money. Unlike [ Sen.] John McCain [the presumptive Republican presidential nominee], this campaign has never accepted donations from Washington lobbyists or special-interest PACs [political action committees] . . . While McCain has built his fundraising strategy around high-dollar donors giving huge checks to the [Republican National Committee], you are creating a new model for publicly financed campaigns.”
First, Plouffe is being—I’ll be charitable—disingenuous when he says that “we are at a disadvantage” in the money game. “Strategists for both parties,” reports Bloomberg News service, “say Obama probably will outpace McCain by more than $100 million for the presidential campaign.” Obama can spend whatever he will raise; he has already raised more than $266 million, most just for the primaries. The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics said this is the first time since the Nixon-McGovern race that the two major presidential candidates will compete on an uneven playing field.
Second, the Obama campaign is shading the truth when it implies that all the money comes from small contributions of $5, $10 or $20. The Center estimated that 55 percent of the hundreds of millions raised has come from big donors—those giving more than $200.
Third, Plouffe is flat wrong when he says this campaign has never accepted money from lobbyists or special-interest political action committees. The Center reported that Obama had raised $115,163 from “lobbyists” as of March 20. Obama now says they are “former” lobbyists, so they don’t fall under his ban on lobbyist donations.
So, whom do lobbyists represent? Special interests—various industries and associations wanting something from government. Here, from the Center’s OpenSecrets.org, are some of the industries that have given Obama money: lawyers, $17.8 million; securities and investments, $7.9 million; education, $7 million; real estate, business services, miscellaneous businesses, health professionals and TV/movies/music, more than $4 million each. Computers/Internet, finance, civil servants and public officials, printing and publishing, commercial banks, hospitals and nursing homes, construction services, all ranging from almost $1 million to more than $3 million.
Biggest donors? Goldman, Sachs & Co., UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, National Amusements, Lehman Brothers, Google, Sidley Austin, Skadden Arps, Time Warner, Morgan Stanley, Exelon, Latham & Watkins, Microsoft and GE are among the biggest corporate contributors.
How can this be? Didn’t Obama say he doesn’t accept money from lobbyists and PACs? Well, that means he still can accept money from “spouses of lobbyists, non-lobbying partners who work for lobbying firms or for law firms that do lobbying, ex-lobbyists and state lobbyists,” said the Center. “Because of contribution limits, organizations that bundle together many individual contributions are often among the top donors to presidential candidates. These contributions can come from the organization’s members or employees [and their families].”
Obama said he now eschews public financing because the devil (McCain and the GOP) made him do it; Obama supposedly is at a disadvantage because they are “fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special-interest PACs.”
To which FactCheck.org replied: “We find that to be a large exaggeration and a lame excuse. In fact, donations from PACs and lobbyists make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain’s total receipts, and they account for only about 1.1 percent of the [Republican National Committee’s] receipts.”
Here’s a final word from FactCheck: “[T]he Democratic National Committee has historically been far more reliant on PAC and lobbyist money than the RNC. In 2004, PACs provided about 10 percent of the DNC’s total fundraising and only about 1 percent of the RNC’s total. Obama, after he sewed up enough delegates to win the party’s nomination, sent word to the DNC to stop accepting PAC and lobbyist donations.”
Tell your donors anything; it’s almost like they’ll believe it.