Wednesday, February 13, 2008

No Ban on Lobbyists As Advisors for Obama

From The Washiginton Post on Janaury 7, 2008 By John Solomon: "Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has made a big deal about the fact that his campaign doesn't accept political donations from Washington lobbyists, and recently declared that "they won't run my White House, and they won't set the agenda in Washington." But that ban doesn't extend to seeking their endorsements, or their advice.

Daniel Shapiro, one of Obama's foreign policy advisers on the Middle East, registered to lobby for several corporate clients in the last year, since leaving the office of Rep. Bill Nelson (D-Fla). Shapiro, who worked during the 1990s for President Bill Clinton's National Security Council, counts some of America's biggest corporate names among his clients, including beermaker Anheuser-Busch, carmaker Daimler Chrysler, the American Petroleum Institute and Freddie Mac.

Obama also recently secured the endorsement of former South Carolina governor Jim Hodges, who now runs a lobbying firm, the Hodges Consulting Group, and is registered himself as a federal lobbyist for Hillenbrand Partners, a Chicago-based company that does business with the Federal Home Loan Bank, according to U.S. Senate lobbying disclosure records. Hodges reported receiving $12,000 from the client in the first half of 2007, the records show. Hodges also signed on as a national co-chair of Obama's campaign and is advising Obama on his southern political strategy.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the candidate does not disqualify Washington lobbyists from from endorsing or advising him. "The way we address this issue is we don't take money from federal lobbyists," Burton said. "It's not a perfect symbol but it's his best effort to show the sort of administration he is going to have."

Hodges and Shapiro aren't the only federal lobbyists inside Obama's campaign. The Washington Post previously reported that Moses Mercado, a veteran political adviser to the likes of Dick Gephardt's former presidential bids, was negotiating last fall to become an adviser to Obama. Mercado was registered in Washington to lobby on behalf of several several corporate clients, including AT&T.

Mercado said today he ultimately decided to skip becoming a paid adviser and instead is volunteering his advice and time in hopes of sidestepping the questions about being a lobbyist on the Obama payroll. Mercado was departing today to Nevada to help Obama with that state's caucuses.

"It actually is better to do it this way. I don't want anything from it," Mercado said. "I wanted to do it for other reasons. I thought he was the right candidate for the country."

As for Obama's frequent criticism of Washington lobbyists, Mercado said, "I don't get sensitive about it. I don't take it personally. What he is trying to do is a good thing. What he wants is some transparency to the process."

A Post review of Obama's payroll, advisers and endorsements found several other Washington lobbyists. Obama staffer Buffy Wicks was registered in 2007 to lobby for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, while two fellow campaign aides were registered in 2006 to lobby for the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress.
Obama's early state coordinator, Steve Hildebrand was registered since 2005 to represent an environmental firm but filed a report terminating his lobbying registration around the time he joined the campaign last January. "