Obama team breaks pledge, taps lobbyists for cash

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President Obama's re-election team is raising big money from lobbying firms and other special interest groups that benefit from his policies and appointments.

This doesn't make Obama any different from other politicians -- but it sure makes him different from what he promised to be.

In March, Obama's campaign officially announced it would cooperate with Priorities USA, the pro-Obama super-PAC run by Obama administration and Obama campaign alumni. As a super-PAC, Priorities USA is not allowed to directly coordinate with the Obama campaign or the Democratic National Committee, but it is also allowed to raise as much money as it can from any donor, including corporations and labor unions, and spend that money on independent ads promoting Obama and attacking Romney.

So Obama's virginity pledges of no corporate money and no lobbyist money -- which were always riddled with loopholes -- are now officially defunct.

Obama's super-PAC takes money not only from corporations and lobbyists, campaign finance filings show, but from actual lobbying corporations -- pocketing at least two $50,000 checks from the corporate coffers of K Street lobbying firms.

MWW Group is mostly known as a public relations firm, but it is also registered to lobby, pulling in $3.5 million in lobbying fees in 2011 from nearly 40 clients. Most of MWW's lobbying clients are colleges seeking federal appropriations, according to federal lobbying filings. But the firm also lobbies on behalf of some big businesses such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida, the state's largest health insurer, according to U.S. News & World Report.

MWW's largest client is Molycorp, the owner of the world's largest single deposit of rare-earth materials, needed to make the batteries Obama is subsidizing through his Advanced Manufacturing Initiative and his various green-energy subsidies. MWW represents the company before Congress and Obama's Energy Department on "advanced manufacturing" matters, according to the firm's lobbying filings.

On Feb. 29, the MWW Group -- the firm itself -- cut a $50,000 check to Priorities USA. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who has spoken at fundraisers for Obama's re-election campaign, has also stated he will help Priorities USA raise money.

Perennial Strategy Group is another lobbying firm directly funding Obama's super-PAC out of firm coffers. Perennial is a self-described "government relations" firm whose website promises to "guide our clients through the legislative and regulatory maze," relying in part on "relationship building and developing strategic alliances with elected officials. ...."

Perennial forked over $50,000 to Priorities USA in February, only a few months after the firm gave the Obama Victory Fund $35,800. Perennial deregistered as a lobbying firm last April, and so, according to Obama's hair-splitting rules, Perennial no longer counts as a lobbyist, regardless of its "strategic alliances" with elected officials.

The United Auto Workers has contributed $100,000 to Priorities USA. The UAW is no bare-bones, blue-collar operation. With assets totaling $1 billion and a $2 million-a-year lobbying operation run out of the union's own $4 million Dupont Circle headquarters, the UAW is a big business. Heck, it even owns a high-end golf course.

The UAW benefitted early from Obamanomics. After George W. Bush and Obama bailed out failed automaker Chrysler, Obama in 2009 tossed aside bankruptcy law and single-handedly gave a majority stake in Chrysler to the UAW and its pension fund, shortchanging Chrysler's secured creditors.

The UAW also lobbied for and benefitted from the cash-for-clunkers boondoggle and the string of auto subsidies Obama has rolled out.

The single largest organization gift to Priorities USA comes from the Service Employees International Union, also known as "Obama's Union." According to the Center for Responsive Politics, SEIU has given a $1 million to Obama's super-PAC.

Campaign contributions buy access, so it's fitting that Obama's biggest donor would have the most access. Andy Stern, president of the SEIU for Obama's first two years, has visited the White House 68 times. When Stern left the helm of the SEIU in April 2010, he was reportedly the most frequent White House visitor.

Obama even appointed Stern -- hardly known as a budget guru -- to the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission. Obama's first White House political director, Patrick Gaspard, had been a lobbyist for SEIU.

But the crowning moment of SEIU-Obama coziness may have been Obama's recess appointment of SEIU's top lawyer, Craig Becker, to the National Labor Relations Board. Obama needed a recess appointment not only to overcome a GOP-led filibuster over Becker's Senate confirmation, but also to save Democrats from casting politically painful votes in favor of him.

Despite all this, expect the media to focus more on Romney's donors and to swallow Obama's no-corporate-money line and anti-lobbyist talk. But rest assured, the lobbyists and special interests understand only too well that you have to pay to play in Obamaland.

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 washingtonexaminer.com.

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