Timothy P. Carney: Another hole in Obama's alleged war on lobbyists

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"They are not funding my campaign. They will not work in my White House," candidate Obama declared.

"They" were registered federal lobbyists. But they do work in his White House-at least 50 of them, in fact. And, although he mostly avoided taking their money, lobbyists also funded his campaign -- including the newest lobbyist for demonized private security contractor Blackwater, now doing business as Xe Services.

Fourteen months into the Obama presidency, anyone following closely should be convinced of what my Washington Examiner colleague David Freddoso had warned in his 2008 best-seller, "The Case Against Barack Obama": Obama's "reformer" shtick and his populist talk are more show than substance.

"I don't take money from lobbyists," Obama repeatedly said on the campaign trail. That rule didn't include state-level lobbyists, former lobbyists, lobbyists on hiatus, or de-facto lobbyists who simply hadn't registered. Supposedly, though, it was a complete prohibition on contributions from federally registered lobbyists. But, in practice, it wasn't even that.

On July 23, 2008, according to papers filed with the Federal Election Commission, Democratic veteran Stuart Eizenstat gave the maximum legal contribution, $2,300, to Obama's campaign. The campaign reported Eizenstat's occupation as "Retired" and under "employer" was written "not employed."

But Eizenstat wasn't retired or unemployed on July 23, 2008. He was a federally registered lobbyist working for the K Street firm Covington & Burling.

In the week before the donation, Eizenstat had filed lobbying reports for seven different clients, and was listed as a lobbyist for three additional clients in Covington & Burling second-quarter filings. Eizenstat was also registered as a lobbyist on these accounts for the third quarter of 2008.

In a donation to Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., one week before the gift to Obama, Eizenstat was listed in FEC filings as a partner at Covington & Burling. He was also listed as a Covington & Burling partner in his first contribution after the Obama gift, a $1,000 check to Rep. Charlie Rangel's, D-N.Y., campaign.

To be fair, there are more than 13,000 registered federal lobbyists, and no campaign could possibly know them all -- and Obama received 124,000 contributions of $1,000 or more. It's not surprising some verboten contributions would slip through. (A DNC spokesman contacted for comment said that Eisenstat's contribution made it past the screening process because of a technical glitch and would be returned.)

But Eizenstat, who didn't respond to a phone message or e-mail for this column, is hardly a low-profile lobbyist. He is a Democratic power player.

Eizenstat served on the staff of President Johnson, and then ran the presidential campaign of Hubert Humphrey. Eizenstat later served four years as Jimmy Carter's chief domestic policy adviser.

Bill Clinton appointed Eizenstat U.S. ambassador to the European Union, but moved him around to top roles in the Commerce, State, and Treasury departments.

In fact, Eizenstat was also an adviser to Obama's campaign. He started the 2008 election as a Hillary Clinton adviser and booster, but once Hillary dropped out, Eizenstat jumped over to advise Obama according to contemporaneous reports in the New York Observer, CNN, and the Washington Post.

Later in July, according to the publication Intelligence Online, Obama "paid a brief visit to the headquarters of the law and lobbying concern Covington & Burling on July 9 on his way to Capitol Hill." Whether Eizenstat was in at the time, we don't know.

Eizenstat's wife, Fran Eizenstat, would donate $25,000 to the Obama Victory Fund (with the money split between the DNC and the Obama campaign) at the end of the quarter.

So when Eizenstat cut his check to Obama for America in July 2008, he hardly did so as a no-name. And when Blackwater hired him as their lobbyist in February, they knew they were investing in a Democrat with clout.

There's nothing rare or unprecedented in this sort of relationship between government contractors, lobbyists, and politicians. But with Obama, we weren't supposed to be getting business as usual.

Timothy P. Carney is the Washington Examiner's lobbying editor. His K Street column appears on Wednesdays.

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