Obama Ad Omits Lobbyist Reference

Obama's latest ad raises questions about the candidate's position on lobbyists.


Dec. 29, 2007 — -- A new television ad released Friday by the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., uses excerpts from a well-received November speech by the candidate in which he attacked corporate lobbyists.

But the campaign notably excised from the excerpt one mid-sentence clause in which Obama promised to ban lobbyists from working in his White House -- a pledge the Illinois Democrat seemed to have backed off from earlier this month.

The ommission, first reported by ABC News Saturday morning, provided an opportunity for Obama's rival, former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., to make that very pledge to ban lobbyists from working in his White House on Saturday afternoon.

The Obama campaign insisted the cut was made purely for time, and not because the senator had been called out on over-reaching rhetoric.

"It was a 30-minute speech and a 60-second ad, so of course we had to make cuts," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said. "Sen. Obama has the strongest record and the furthest reaching proposals when it comes to curbing the influence of special interests and lobbyists of any candidate in this race."

By making that cut, however, the Obama campaign, in the last week before the crucial Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, risks focusing attention on an issue that can be used to portray the senator as just another politician.

After the ommission was reported on ABCNews.com, Edwards pounced. Sensing an opportunity to differentiate himself from Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and in particular from Obama, with whom he is competing for Iowa caucus-goers, Edwards called a press conference in which he made the pledge Obama seemed to have backed away from.

"When I'm president of the United States, corporate lobbyists or anyone who has lobbied for a foreign government will not be permitted to work in my White House," Edwards said. "And this is a continuation of my belief that we need to reduce the influence of special interests and lobbyists, which I believed the entire time I've been in pubic life."

On Nov. 11, Obama delivered a rousing address at the Iowa Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Speech in Des Moines, Iowa, a stem winder that seemed to revitalize what had seemed to some political observers to have become a campaign in need of a jolt.

"I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over," Obama said, bringing the crowd to its feet.

"I have done more than any other candidate in this race to take on lobbyists -- and I have won. They have not funded my campaign, they will not get a job in my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am president."

That entire section of the speech except for the words "they will not get a job in my White House" is included in the new campaign ad. The ad also includes other parts of that address.

The excising of the clause comes two weeks after Obama took some heat for having told crowds that lobbyists "won't work" in his White House when his actual proposal on lobbying reform is far more permissive, disallowing for two years a lobbyist for a specific industry to work at the White House on contracts or regulations pertaining to that industry.

Senior Obama strategist and Obama media guru David Axelrod, who created the spot, told ABC News that the cut in the ad released Friday was made simply to get the commercial down to 60 seconds.

"I had to edit for time," Axelrod said. "It did not change the fundamental message we were trying to communicate."

As recently as this month, Obama was telling crowds in Iowa that lobbyists wouldn't work in his White House, a pledge that until today no other major presidential candidate had made.

"I am running to tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over," he told voters in Maquoketa. "They have not funded my campaign. They won't work in my White House."

But on Dec. 15 in Waterloo, Iowa, Obama clarified that his actual proposal would mean that "if you are a former lobbyist who applies and wants to work in the White House, you will be barred from working on any regulatory issues or anything related to the industry that you lobbied for."

Moreover, Obama clarified, "once you are working in the White House, if you decide that you were going to leave the White House, you will not be able to lobby your former agency on behalf of an industry that has been regulated. Our intention is to shut down the revolving door."

Obama acknowledged that he was not imposing a clear-cut ban on lobbyists.

"What I'm saying is the revolving door, the pattern of people going from industry to agency, back to industry -- that will be closed in the Obama White House," he said.

After that press conference, Obama changed his rhetoric to say that lobbyists "are not going to dominate my White House" and "will not run my White House."

Axelrod insisted this was a coincidence.

"This was not a substantive decision," he said. "The main points were still made. If it had been a 65-second ad I would have loved to have used it."

Obama went after both Clinton and Edwards for electability isses Saturday.

"We are less likely to win an election that starts off with half the country not wanting to vote for that candidate," he said during a campaign stop in Fort Madison, Iowa, referring to Clinton.

Turning to Edwards, he said, "We are less likely also to win an election with somebody who had one set of positions four years ago and has almost entirely different positions four years later."

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, attacked Edwards for benefiting from allies operating third-party independent groups called 527s that purportedly don't advocate for any candidate but in reality clearly do so.

"His campaign simply exploited the biggest loophole in the campaign finance system in order to get public matching funds while arranging through allies to benefit from a 527," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in a statement sent out Saturday. "That's how they avoided the spending limits that are a condition of the public matching funds."

Plouffe sent out the memo after the Los Angeles Times reported that an Edwards supporter, Rachel Mellon, had donated $495,000 to the Alliance for a New America, a 527 run by Edwards' former campaign manager that Edwards says he knows nothing about.

In an interview with ABC News on Friday, Edwards said, "I myself would like to see 527s banned, outlawed so that we don't see this type of thing again."

For its part, the Clinton campaign remained mum, no doubt enjoying the Obama-Edwards brawl.

ABC News' Sunlen Miller, traveling with the Obama campaign, and Raelyn Johnson traveling with the Edwards campaign, contributed to this report.

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