Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged he wouldn't take money from federal lobbyists in his bid for the White House, a promise that puts him in a tough spot: just who qualifies as a lobbyist, and what qualifies as lobbyist money? Moreover, with the fundraising wars just beginning, how do you mount a serious campaign for the Presidency while promising to change the system?
Obama has promised a ban on lobbyist contributions to his campaign, but The Hill examines Obama's fundraising rolls and finds the difficulty in differentiating between taking money from lobbyists, and taking it from those either recently in the lobbying world, or who are high up in firms and corporations with significant interests before the government:
Bill Burton, Obama’s spokesman, said the candidate is doing his best in a difficult situation.
“This ban is part of Obama’s best effort to address the problem of money in politics,” said Burton. “It isn’t a perfect solution to the problem, and it isn’t even a perfect symbol, but it does reflect that Obama shares the urgent desire of the American people to change the way Washington operates.”
Our President and CEO Nick Nyhart comments on the challenges inherent in having to both play the fundraising game and run as a reformer:
“You don’t escape special-interest influence-giving simply by banning lobbyists from being able to give to you,” said Nick Nyhart, the president of Public Campaign, which advocates public financing of elections. “Most of the givers are in some way connected to entities that employ lobbyists. The interests are there even if the individual [donors] are not lobbyists themselves.
“By collecting $1,000, $2,000, and $2,300 checks, you’re simply walking into the interests of special-interest America.
“I think it’s a positive gesture,” Nyhart said of Obama’s ban on lobbyist contributions, “but to the extent it makes people think candidates are not taking special-interest money, it’s just wrong.”
Let's hope that whoever gets to the White House next November vigorously pursues a new and comprehensive public financing system for the presidential and congressional races so candidates aren't painted into this square.