Obama Campaign Refuses Federal Lobbyist Cash, but Loopholes Persist

on January 30 2012 12:17 PM
US President Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama Reuters

President's Obama's re-election campaign plans to refund about thousands of dollars collected from registered federal lobbyists last year, telling a campaign finance watchdog group it is refusing all contributions from lobbyists as it did during the 2008 campaign.

 The Obama campaign accepted a total of $2,250 from five federal registered lobbyists between April and September 2011, purportedly violating its own hard-pressed policy, according to research from the Center For Responsive Politics. The campaign also collected an additional $4,500 from three individuals who registered as federal lobbyists shortly after making their contributions.

When asked about the donations, Obama campaign spokesperson Ben LaBolt told the non-partisan organization's OpenSecrets Blog the campaign is committed to immediately refunding any contributions from registered federal lobbyists that may slip through the cracks.

Unlike our opponents, our campaign does not accept contributions from Washington lobbyists, LaBolt said. However, the campaign did not comment on the $4,500 it accepted from individuals who subsequently became registered lobbyists for at least a portion of 2011.

The Obama campaign has continued to tout its distance from federal lobbyists as a central part of its fundraising pitch; the subject even made its way into the president's Jan. 24 State of the Union address when he asked Congress to ban campaign bundling by lobbyists.

The reelection committee has continued to reject direct donations from political action committees, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis found.

Seventy-four percent of the campaign's fundraising -- or approximately $63.5 million-- has come from individual donations, a majority of which consists of small donations of $200 or less.

Registered federal lobbyists are, by law, individuals who hold two or more meetings with elected officials or staff in any quarter of the year on behalf of a client whose lobbying activities constitute at least 20 percent of his or her time during a three-month period. Critics have also pointed out the ban does not extend to individuals employed by lobbying firms who do not meet those guidelines.

For instance, Politifact reports former lawmakers and other senior political officials can still offer strategic advice to candidates without having to register as official lobbyists.

Obama's reelection effort has collected millions from bundlers who, though not registered lobbyists, are active in politics and solicit and package donations from others to deliver massive bundled contributions without transgressing personal contribution limits. Together, 357 elite donors -- including DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and Comcast Executive VP David Cohen -- have raised at least $55.9 million for Obama's reelection. Several Obama bundlers have previously been involved with or been employed as registered federal lobbyists, Politifact reports.

While the president and the Democratic National Committee refuse lobbyist and PAC contributions -- a position the DNC adopted under Obama's leadership -- that policy does not carry over to the Republican Party.

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has raised at least $206,000 from lobbyists and employees of lobbying firms, the Center said, while eight registered lobbyists have also bundled about $1 million in contributions toward the Romney campaign. Meanwhile, only about 10 percent of Romney's campaign funds have come from individual contributions of $200 or less.

Newt Gingrich, whose campaign has only raised just under $3 million, has received $40,000 from PAC contributions and another $28,550 from lobbying firms.

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