ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: Former Senator John Edwards is ratcheting up the pressure on his Democratic rivals on the issue of accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists, as he seeks to highlight a distinction between himself and several other candidates in advance of ABC’s Democratic debate Sunday in Iowa.
Edwards, D-N.C., on Thursday sent a letter to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to join him in calling on the Democratic Party to stop accepting lobbyists’ contributions. Both Edwards and Obama have refused to accept money from federally registered lobbyists during their campaigns for the presidency — a position that puts them at odds with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
"Lobbyists are at the core of the way the system is rigged against regular folks," Jonathan Prince, Edwards’ deputy campaign manager, said in a conference call with reporters. "Let’s take that money out of the process."
Edwards wants Obama to join him in calling for the Democratic National Committee as well as the party’s House and Senate fundraising arms to reject lobbyists donations going forward.
The Democratic Party committees accepted at least $1.9 million from the lobbying industry in the 2006 election cycle, and at least $2.3 million in the 2004 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Many in the party would resist giving up that cash since it would almost certainly amount to unilateral disarmament; the Republican Party is highly unlikely to rule out such a lucrative source of cash. The party committees did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The move reflects an effort by the Edwards campaign to grow the candidate’s on the issue of lobbyists’ contributions. Obama and Edwards both drew headlines at a recent forum for liberal bloggers, with their public break with Clinton over whether it’s appropriate for presidential candidates to take money from people who make their living seeking to influence government policy.
In the conference call, Prince also drew a distinction between Edwards and Obama while noting that Edwards has never accepted money from lobbyists or Political Action Committees, while Obama did accept their dollars during his 2004 run for Senate.
Prince also contrasted Edwards’ views on lobbyists’ role in the political process with those of Obama, who told The Washington Post on Wednesday, "The insurance and drug companies can have a seat at the table in our health-care debate; they just can’t buy all the chairs."
Prince said Edwards has a different view of lobbyists.
"The lobbyists for the big corporate interests are not going to have a seat at the table in the Edwards administration," he said. "We know what the lobbyists want. What’s necessary now is to beat it back and get what the people want."
The Obama campaign released a statement that declined to comment on the specific request regarding the party committees, but pointed out that Obama has proposed a package of lobbying and ethics reforms that aim to reduce the influence of money on politics.
"It’s not enough just to refuse their money, we have to curb their influence," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. "We invite John Edwards and every other candidate to support the sweeping reforms Obama has proposed to take our government back from the special interests and put it in the hands of the American people."