On Father’s Day, I received an email from the First Lady celebrating an exemplary father giving back to his community. One line at the end of the message struck me, referring to the “Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee authorized by Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee.”

We aren’t funded by Washington lobbyists or corporate interests. We rely on donations from people like you.

Is this really true? What do you think? I noted the specificity of the term “Washington lobbyists,” and wondered about other qualifiers. Consider this:

From a February 15, 2008 article in The Columbia Journalism Review that describes a nuanced, “more complicated truth”:

…Opensecrets.org, the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics, is the most authoritative source on campaign finances. Basing its reports on data from the Federal Election Commission, the Center shows that Obama indeed doesn’t take much money from a sector the Center calls “lobbyists.” Through the end of December, Clinton received more than $800,000 and McCain around $400,000 from this group, which the Center says includes people who work for lobbying firms at the local, state, and federal level and their relatives who are not otherwise employed, as well as those who are officially registered as Washington lobbyists. Obama received contributions of about just $86,000 from this group. Obama’s Web site says he doesn’t take money from Washington lobbyists or political action committees,and the Center says that if his campaign finds that the money came from registered Washington lobbyists, it does get returned.

How meaningful is this? “It’s a politically smart position for him to take. It sounds profound,” says Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “But in fact neither PACs nor lobbyists give a lot to presidential campaigns. He’s not leaving a whole lot of money on the table by eschewing PACs and lobbyists.” PAC money represents only about one percent of all the money in a presidential race because, Ritsch says, so many people donate that their contributions dwarf PAC money.

Significantly, the Center’s lobbyist sector excludes in-house lobbyists who work solely for one company, union, trade association, or other group. These people may lobby, but their contributions are grouped in the totals for the various industries they represent, along with contributions from other employees in the sector, their relatives, whatever PAC money has been raised, and donations from trade and professional associations which, of course, carry lots of weight in the horse trading that occurs when legislation is drafted. (Corporations cannot contribute directly to candidates.)

Contributions made by the various industry sectors tell the real story in a presidential race. And Opensecrets.org shows that Obama is picking up gobs of money put on the table by these special interests–including those involved in health care, which will surely have a lot riding on the outcome of the election and will expect to be heard after the election is over.

Blogger Sam Stein wrote recently:

President Barack Obama experienced one of those occasions. The Obama administration received a stern letter from the American League of Lobbyists firmly warning it to dispose of a draft executive order that would force federal contractors disclose their donations.
“Since your announcement to seek the Presidency you have consistently attacked the honorable profession of lobbying,” the letter, signed by the group’s president Howard Marlowe, read. “Lobbyists play an important role in the legislative process, serving as educators to elected officials.

Here’s the letter from the Lobbying Group for Lobbyists:


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