Obama fundraising 2012: True, but not accurate

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

During the Washington Post versus New York Times battle over whether Barack Obama’s reelection campaign did or did not raise more money from Wall Street than Mitt Romney and the other GOP candidates, the Obama campaign and its defenders arrived at a position which while technically true was not accurate in the spirit of, you know, facts. Namely, while the legal entity that is the Obama campaign had raised less money from Wall Street than Mitt Romney, the campaign plus the DNC had raise more Wall Street money than all Republican presidential candidates combined. Obama supporters positioned this as very important, since by the letter of the law it was true that Romney had outraised Obama on Wall Street. Of course, given that the DNC’s job in 2012 is to help President Obama win re-election, ignoring the money they raise from Wall Street as not being connected to Obama is completely disingenuous.

It seems the New York Times has found another area wherein the Obama campaign is technically correct in their messaging, but functionally inaccurate.

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.

Because the bundlers are not registered as lobbyists with the Senate, the Obama campaign has managed to avoid running afoul of its self-imposed ban on taking money from lobbyists.

The Obama campaign has a self-imposed ban on taking money from lobbyists. There is absolutely nothing illegal about taking political contributions from lobbyists. Even the ethics of taking money from lobbyists are debatable – for example, I would have no problem if the Obama campaign took money from people who lobby on behalf of unionized teachers, nurses, firefighters, and janitors. The point is that there is nothing within the job description of a lobbyist which makes them inherently evil. To put it differently, most political campaigns will vet large donations to make sure that the person who wrote them a check wasn’t, say, recently indicted for a felony crime. The reason campaigns do this is that they don’t like the optics of taking money from crooks. The Obama campaign has somewhat arbitrarily decided that lobbyists are like crooks and their money is bad, except in cases where the lobbyists don’t meet the legal standard of lobbyist, as we see here:

Take Sally Susman. An executive at the drug-maker Pfizer, she has raised more than $500,000 for the president’s re-election and helped organize a $35,800-a-ticket dinner that Mr. Obama attended in Manhattan in June. At the same time, she leads Pfizer’s powerful lobbying shop, and she has visited the White House four times since 2009 — twice on export issues.

So this individual was meeting with the President while the healthcare bill was being written and some of those meetings were about exporting US-made drugs. Yet by the letter of the law, Susman is not a lobbyist and therefore her money is good!

Oh and those $35,800-a-ticket dinners that Susman put together? Yeah, that money goes to the DNC.

The Obama campaign has a statement responding to the Times story. The basic thrust of it is that the Times is skewering them for letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good, punishing efforts to promote reform.” That may be the case and the Obama campaign is right to point out that all Republican candidates make no bones about taking cash from lobbyists and letting lobbyists bundle cash for them.

At the same time, the Obama campaign is trying to convince us that the influence of someone whose job is as a lobbyist giving $5,000 (the legal limit for primary and general election contributions in 2012) is greater than a lobbyist who bundles 100 times that amount. And that is pure bunk.

What’s more upsetting is the completely cynical analysis by the Obama campaign which defines the quality of their actions by the letter of the law or the letter of their pledges, while ignoring the larger context within which they occur. They take less money from Wall Street than Romney, but only if you ignore the DNC. They don’t take donations from lobbyists, but only if you ignore their bundlers who lobby. And if those bundlers who lobby as executives of major pharmaceutical companies find ways to avoid the rather high threshold to be counted as a lobbyist, well then since they do not meet the definition of lobbyist, the campaign can’t be criticized for taking their money.

These two stories, happening a week apart, show that the Obama re-election campaign is committed to a very cynical ploy to be true, while not being accurate, in their descriptions of their fundraising. The danger of this is that the energy of hope and change that fueled the campaign in 2008 will be completely non-existent in 2012. The remedy for that could be providing voters with genuine, honest reform. Or it could be taking more corporate or Wall Street cash. Seeing which course the campaign chooses will be easy enough, so I shall avoid any speculation as to what they will do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s