POLITICS

Obama's sleight of hand on lobbyist contributions

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The Obama campaign is trying to portray its fundraising juggernaut as an expression of grass-roots enthusiasm, an effort that requires shameless sophistry about lobbyists and "special interests."

"We did this from the bottom up," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said of the $86 million haul last quarter by the campaign and the Democratic National Committee. "We didn't accept one single dollar from Washington lobbyists. ..."

This is true by some definitions, but basically misleading. Plenty of Obama's large donors are, by any reasonable definition, "Washington lobbyists" -- they are simply not registered as such with the congressional ethics and records offices.

Take Google's Beltway operatives. Vint Cerf is one of the guys who actually did invent the Internet, and now he works for the ardently pro-Obama Web giant as "senior vice president and chief Internet evangelist." Cerf evangelizes government policymakers, we know thanks to emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Cerf leaned on then-White House tech policy official Andrew McLaughlin -- himself a former unregistered lobbyist for Google -- to advance "net neutrality" regulations that would profit Google.

Ginny Hunt works out of Google's K Street offices as its "global communications and public affairs manager." An online bio says, "Ginny builds partnerships and initiatives with campaigns, non-profits and governments. ..."

Cerf gave $5,000 to the DNC in June, and Hunt gave $250 to Obama's campaign in April. Neither Hunt nor Cerf is registered to lobby the federal government -- meaning that legally, they must spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying Washington -- so Obama can take their money and still claim to reject all money from "Washington lobbyists."

Cisco's Adam Golodner is another nonregistered lobbyist on Obama's donor rolls. His title is a giveaway: "director of global security and technology policy." His job, according to the company's website, is to "help direct Cisco's global public policy for security with governments, thought leaders, partners and others."

Golodner was a registered lobbyist for Cisco up until the first quarter of 2009. After lobbying on the stimulus in those early months of the Obama administration, Golodner de-registered in the wake of Obama's various executive orders and rules touted as restricting lobbyist influence. Since de-registering, Golodner has visited the White House at least four times, according to visitor logs, meeting with tech policy officials like McLaughlin and Chris Greer, director of the White House Office of Cyberinfrastructure.

So Golodner, technology policy director for a major government contractor, who personally meets with White House technology policy officials, is allowed to give $2,500 to Obama's re-election because he simply stopped registering as a lobbyist once Obama came into office.

Eugene Ludwig fits the mold, too. Ludwig founded Promontory Financial Group, Washington's leading consultant on financial matters. Ludwig lobbied for the auto bailout on behalf of General Motors and its finance arm GMAC. He's also had insurer AIG and subprime king Countrywide as clients. He cut a $35,800 check last month to the Obama Victory Fund, which divides the money between the campaign and the DNC.

K Street's top lobbying firms are full of top Obama donors, too.

Glover Park Group is one of the most powerful lobbying firms of the Obama era, with clients like the American Bankers Association, America's Health Insurance Plans, Berkshire Hathaway, Pfizer, Planned Parenthood and JP Morgan. Glover Park partner Jonathan Sallet and associate Kathryn Brown have both given Obama the maximum $5,000. Sallet has also given $30,800 to the DNC this year.

Leading Glover Park lobbyist Susan Brophy (representing Verizon, News Corp. and Disney, among others) hasn't contributed to Obama's re-election -- since she's registered her money is dirty, in the Obama campaign's narrative. But her husband, Gerry McGowan, It's perfectly fine that he's given $35,800 to the Obama Victory Fund.

Antoinette Bush is an alumnus of the Senate Commerce Committee, and today she works on "legislative matters" for legendary law-and-lobbying firm Skadden Arps. She's not registered, and she's a $35,800 Obama donor.

DNC donors Mark Boatwright, James O'Neill and Soyla Fernandez all list their occupation as "lobbyist," as do Obama campaign donors Alex Baloga and Bob Burke. They are all state-level lobbyists, so that's fine.

There are plenty more nonregistered lobbyists, lobbyist spouses and state-level lobbyists on Obama's donor list. This is no different from his competitors' campaigns, but it's certainly at odds with his rhetoric.

Timothy P. Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.

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