Friday, March 14, 2008

Obama's politically expedient ethics conversions

From Chicago Sun-Times by Lynn Sweet on March 14, 2008: "WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barack Obama, who had been declining to reveal earmarks he requested in 2005 and 2006, finally did so Thursday and probably would prefer the story to be about how his campaign challenged Democratic presidential rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, to do the same for her entire Senate tenure.

Instead, since I have some reporting history here, I am noting a pattern that has emerged: This is Obama's third ethical conversion of convenience -- taking on a higher standard, but only when it appears to be politically expedient. Obama is making government transparency and ethics a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

The Obama record:

• • Obama took 23 subsidized rides on corporate jets in 2005, the first year he was in office. In January 2006, the very week he became the lead Senate Democrat on ethics, his office announced that in the future, his political war chest would pay the entire cost of using private planes.

• • Obama took donations from federal lobbyists and political action committees for his House and Senate races and his own Hopefund political action committee. He only stopped taking this political money -- speaking out against it -- when he launched his presidential campaign in February 2007.

• • Obama did disclose earmark requests he made in 2007; however, his office has been refusing since June, without explanation, to disclose earmarks Obama had sought previously. Thursday's decision to disclose came on the very day the Senate voted on a one-year earmark moratorium. It failed 71-29. Clinton and Obama voted in favor.

Obama and Clinton have signed on to this moratorium measure knowing one of them will face the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, who is leading the drive against earmarks and does not request them. Last month, McCain taunted Obama on lack of earmark disclosure. Obama will seek no earmarks for Illinois this year.

Obama's presidential campaign hosted a conference call Thursday to trumpet his new disclosures even as they were being posted on the Internet. The call featured Obama ally Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). McCaskill praised Obama's openness and said, "And I think if we are not willing to share things, like, you know, appointment calendars or earmarks, I think it is a bad sign for truly making a change in the way this place operates."

Since McCaskill raised the point: Obama has provided bare-bones information about his Senate schedule. I asked McCaskill about this. "I would think he would be happy to share information about how he spends his days," she said. He is not.

Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines said that Clinton "has made public the funding she has helped to secure and will make public the requests she submits this year."

Earmarks are tucked into legislation, controversial because they bypass review. Obama requested and did not secure $1 million for a hospital pavilion at the University of Chicago. Obama's wife, Michelle, is vice president for community and external affairs, now on leave, at the U. of Chicago Hospitals. Obama also sought money for the Center for Neighborhood Technology, where his neighbor Jacky Grimshaw is a honcho.

In 2005, Obama asked for $500,000 for Kids Voting USA, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization encouraging young people to vote.

In 2006, Obama requested $250,000 for the Chicago Park District's Obesity Prevention-Affordable Fitness Centers. He also asked for $8 million for a defense contractor linked to General Dynamics. Obama's Illinois co-finance chairman, Jim Crown, is on the company's board of directors. "