More than a dozen of President Obama’s top campaign financiers have close ties to the lobbying industry, despite his pledge to remain free from the influence of lobbyists and their cash, according to an analysis of donor lists by the New York Times.
At least 15 Obama “bundlers,” or volunteer fundraisers who gather contributions from their deep-pocket friends, are actively involved in the federal policymaking process, working in law firms or corporate offices that focus on lobbying, the Times found.
None of the donors are formally registered as federal lobbyists, the threshold the Obama campaign uses to regularly refuse contributions. But the individuals’ activities, the Times contends, fit the definition.
Pfizer executive Sally Susman, for example, chairs the company’s political action committee and leads its “public affairs activities, including relations with governments,” according the Pfizer website. She has bundled more than $500,000 in donations for Obama so far.
Comcast executive David Cohen, who oversees the media giant’s government affairs and public affairs, also bundled more than $500,000 and has hobnobbed with Obama on Martha’s Vineyard.
And Michael Kempner, whose PR firm MWW Group touts to its clients its “important relationships with both the Democratic and Republican leadership,” has also bundled half a million dollars for Obama. His firm includes seven registered lobbyists, according to the Times.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt contended that the president has not broken his promise on lobbyists, saying in a statement that the Times analysis “misses the forest for the trees.”
“From the first day he announced he was running for president, Barack Obama hasn’t accepted a dime from federal lobbyists or political action committees,” LaBolt said. “He led the way in disclosing major volunteer fundraisers for his campaign, disclosing both the names of the individuals who raise money for the campaign as well as the levels of contributions that they raise.”
The Obama campaign has released information on 351 bundlers, the vast majority of whom do not have ties to the lobbying arena, who have together raised $55.5 million this year for the Obama Victory Fund. The account funnels cash to both Obama and the Democratic National Committee.
None of the Republican presidential candidates has banned contributions from registered lobbyists or voluntarily disclosed the names of his or her bundlers, breaking with a precedent of transparency set by George W. Bush and continued by John McCain.
GOP front-runner Mitt Romney has received close to $200,000 in campaign contributions from more than 100 registered lobbyists, according to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission data. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has collected at least $72,000 from 42 lobbyists through September. Neither will disclose his full list of campaign bundlers.