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Obama, Cozy with Corporate Lobbyists, Risks Much with Edwards Attack

Obama, all-too-cozy with corporate lobbyists, is wading into dangerous territory.
 
 
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While John Edwards announced this weekend that he will ban corporate lobbyists and foreign government lobbyists from his White House, Barack Obama has stepped up criticism of Edwards on everything from his populist views to Iowa ads about Edwards by an independent organization backed by union members.

With these latest remarks, however, Obama is wading into treacherous territory if he thinks no one will notice his close ties to big business lobbyists and their money, all while he attempts to play connect-the-dots on Edwards.

Obama has been relying on the advice and support of Washington lobbyists since early in his 2008 predential campaign. In an article from March of this year on The Hill, Alexander Bolton detailed Obama's K Street connections:

"Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), a consultant for Alston & Bird; Broderick Johnson, president of Bryan Cave Strategies LLC; Mark Keam, the lead Democratic lobbyist at Verizon; Jimmy Williams, vice president of government affairs for the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America; Thomas Walls, vice president of federal public affairs at McGuireWoods Consulting; and Francis Grab, senior manager at Washington Council Ernst & Young."

These lobbyist ties surfaced again before the holidays, when The Hill published this story on December 20 that exposed two federal lobbyists currently on Obama's campaign payroll, one of whom appears to have received payment while she was working as a lobbyist.

"Teal Baker, who received her first payment from Obama's campaign on June 13, represented 18 corporations between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year while working as a lobbyist for Podesta Group, a K Street powerhouse. Clients paid Podesta Group over $2 million during those six months for Baker and her colleagues to represent them, according to documents filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.

Clients such as Oshkosh Truck and Pinkerton Consulting paid more than $700,000 for Emmett Beliveau and his colleagues at Patton Boggs to represent them during the first half of 2007. Beliveau received a $3,050 payment from Obama's campaign for advance work on Feb. 21, a campaign finance report shows.

In addition, the article states, "Brandon Hurlbut, Obama's liaison to veterans, union members and senior citizens in New Hampshire, represented clients such as the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and the Allegheny County Housing Authority from January to June, according to public records. Six clients paid B&D Consulting $380,000 for Hurlbut to lobby their causes.

Until recently, Hurlbut had a voice mail greeting at B&D Consulting informing callers that he was on "a temporary leave of absence" to work for Obama's campaign."

On its website, Patton Boggs, (the firm that employed Beliveau), proudly boasts of being "consistently ranked as the nation's number one lobbying firm by the National Journal."

The Podesta Group, (the firm that employed Teal Baker), is run by Tony Podesta, a Chicago native. Podesta was listed third in Washingtonian magazine's list of the city's top lobbyists. The Washingtonian article from June says Podesta was hired by British Petroleum, whose pipeline problems and refinery fires have created regulatory and public-relations issues. Podesta had been "guiding BP through congressional hearings."

The author of the article, Kim Eisler, writes, "Podesta and his team of 23 lobbyists are said to collect $12 million to $15 million in annual billings."

A chart on current and former lobbyists who've worked for presidential campaigns for the 2008 election is published on The Hill's website. Wondering who's on Edwards' payroll? The chart names two men: Adam Jentleson and Matthew Morrison.

Jentleson "lobbied on behalf of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank," and Morrison, "was registered as a lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers," (a trade union). Trade union and liberal think tank, quite the distinction from Obama's political movers, isn't it?

According to Colleen Murray, a spokeswoman for Edwards, both aides have ceased lobbying.

As Paul Krugman recently confirmed in his column for the New York Times, Obama is attempting to compare labor unions and progressive interests with groups that advocate for corporations as he criticizes Edwards, those recent Iowa ads and tries to link Edwards to Washington lobbyists.

But by doing just this, Obama glaringly leaves the door wide open on his own involvement with big business lobbyists and more importantly his denial of what's at stake in this era of rampant corporate greed.

Christine S. Escobar is a Chicago based writer whose work has appeared online and in print at Life Without School and Organic Family Magazine .

 
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