President Obama doesn’t take campaign contributions from lobbyists — unless you count the owners and CEOs of lobbying firms, corporate vice presidents for government relations, or managing directors for public policy.
“We don’t accept any money from special-interest groups or Washington lobbyists,” the Obama campaign bragged in a recent email touting the $70 million raised last quarter by the campaign and the Democratic National Committee. But if you comb through the actual filings with the Federal Elections Commission, you see how misleading this claim is.
Wealthy revolving-door banker Peter Orszag epitomizes everything Obama ran against. Orszag was Obama’s budget director until the 2010 elections at which point he cashed out to bailed-out megabank Citigroup. A Citi executive touted Orszag’s “key … government experience” and “his expertise in economic policy.” In other words, Orzag has monetized his public service and sold it to Citi, which, like all big banks, counts on favorable government policy for its profits.
Apparently feeling fairly plush after nine months at a Wall Street salary, Orszag cut a $35,800 check last month to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that divides its funds between the official Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee. To sum up: Orszag gained inside knowledge and connections on the taxpayer dime, put them to work for a big bank, then used his salary from this bailed-out bank to give the maximum contribution to the man who hired him in the White House.
Orszag’s tale may be the most unseemly, but revolving-door influence peddlers are common at Obama fundraisers. Kathy Brown is Verizon’s senior vice president for “public policy development and corporate responsibility.” The telecom giant’s website says she is “responsible for federal, state and international public policy development and international government relations for Verizon.” Like Orszag, Brown’s a revolver, having leveraged her time at Bill Clinton’s Federal Communications Commission (which regulates Verizon) into a K Street lobbying job before taking over Verizon’s lobby shop. Brown has given $17,900 to the Obama Victory Fund.
Rasky Baerlein is a lobbying firm based on both K Street and Boston’s Beacon Hill. Chairman Lawrence Rasky and President Joseph Baerlein both gave big to Obama last quarter, with more than $35,000 to the Obama Victory Fund between them. Their firm’s federal lobbying clients include drug maker Eli Lilly, wind-power company First Wind (which has received at least $115 million in stimulus grants), and a handful of health care companies.
David Wimsatt is CEO of Bold Concepts, a firm that pledges to assist “small businesses participating in Federal Government programs.” The firm’s website touts its “carefully nurtured” relationships with federal agencies ranging from the Pentagon to the National Zoo. Part of that “nurtur[ing],” presumably, is CEO Wimsatt’s $30,000 to the Obama Victory Fund last quarter.
All of these men and women — and dozens more like them on Obama’s donor rolls — are lobbyists, as the word is commonly understood. They are paid to influence government policy, either on behalf of their clients or on behalf of their employers.
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