Money Trail: Lobbyists Gone Wild as Obama Remains Silent

Despite a campaign that attacked corporate and special interest lobbyists as evil and banned their money and participation, Sen. Barack Obama has done little, if anything, about their pervasive, free-spending presence at the Democratic convention in Denver, ethics watchdog groups say.

"I think he could have sent a signal to say I want this tamped down," said Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, a political ethics watchdog group.

"But he has not," she said, "so it's party time."

(Brian Ross reports tonight from Denver, on the Money Trail, for World News with Charles Gibson.)

What Does Big Money Buy At These Conventions
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A spokesman for the Obama campaign, Ben LaBolt, said the Senator could not "make changes to this year's convention" because of the "very late end to the primary season."

As a result, lobbyists are once again spending millions of dollars here on gourmet food, top-shelf liquor and private lavish parties for Democratic elected officials who seem more than happy to play the role of world-class freeloaders.

According to Denver's top chefs and caterers, no expense is being spared.

Kevin Taylor, of the Denver restaurant Palette, who says he is the only four-star chef in Denver, says he is booked to prepare delicacies for more than 100 "high end, hush-hush events."

"The demand is over the top, you've never seen anything like this," said chef Taylor, especially for his signature King Crab terrine appetizer with white champagne caviar.

At the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where rooms for Democratic VIP's are now going for $2,000 a night, the executive chef, Andre Jimenez, says even the room welcome gifts need to be elaborate for the 35 top donors and celebrities, including "the rarest peaches in America."

"It's only for the best of the best that we host here," the chef told ABC News.

"We're seeing lobbyists gone wild," said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a non-profit group that lobbied for the new ethics law enacted last year, aimed at curbing lobbying abuses.

"Many of the new rules also apply to the national nominating conventions, though the public would not know this by looking at the roster of parties being planned by lobbyists and lobbying organizations," Holman wrote in a letter to both Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives.

In fact, one of the country's leading lobbyists, Steve Farber, was chosen by the Democratic party chairman Howard Dean in 2006 to serve as co-chair and chief fundraiser of the Denver host committee that puts on the convention.

Farber, a Denver lawyer, is the founding partner of Brownstein, Farber and Hyatt, one the most prominent and active lobbying operations in Washington.

Farber and his team have persuaded some 141 corporations to contribute more than $50 million to pay the costs of putting on the Democrats' convention.

Outside an elaborate private party he hosted Sunday night at Denver's Museum of Art, Farber told ABC News he does not agree with Obama's attempt to exclude lobbyists and their money from the campaign.

"I respect the position that's been taken by the Senator, but I don't necessarily agree with it," said Farber.

Farber said his efforts, and the corporate contributions, had less to do with access and influence and more to do with "democracy."

Watchdog groups insist Farber's presence is a contradiction of Obama's stated position.

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