- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama’s decision to tell the Democratic National Committee to stop taking money from lobbyists isn’t likely to dent fundraising efforts because the policy only applies to current federal lobbyists, experts say.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s decree doesn’t rule out contributions from past lobbyists, unregistered lobbying firm partners or statehouse lobbyists. Instead, it prohibits donations from currently registered federal lobbyists.

“I´ve sent a strong signal in this campaign by refusing the contributions of registered federal lobbyists and [political action committees],” Mr. Obama said Thursday. “They do not fund our campaign and they will not fund our party.”

Stephen Weissman, associate director for policy at the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute (CFI), called Mr. Obama’s policy “a modest gesture.”

“As a rule, only a very small percentage of contributions to candidates who do accept money from lobbyists actually come from lobbyists,” Mr. Weissman said. “It’s not going to have a major effect on the DNC’s ability to get money from large donors.”

Mr. Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain have spent weeks trying to paint each other as Washington insiders tied to special interests. Mr. McCain recently announced that his campaign will no longer allow staffers to work as lobbyists, a response to increasing criticism about his top aides making millions as agents for foreign countries.

Mr. Obama has several former lobbyists as advisers, including former Justice Department deputy Eric Holder, who was registered as a lobbyist at District-based Covington & Burling in 2003. Mr. Holder was recently named to a committee to review candidates to be Mr. Obama’s running mate.

The CFI, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization affiliated with George Washington University, said Democrats and Republicans also are using host committees for their upcoming political conventions to raise unlimited “soft money” contributions from special interests.

One Democratic organizer, Steve Farber, is a partner in a law firm with a Washington lobbying office, while Republicans are planning to offer big money donors golf outings and private receptions with elected officials, according to a recent CFI report.

“These are the major issues,” Mr. Weissman said.

Campaign-finance expert Anthony J. Corrado, professor at Colby College in Maine and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the Obama policy could help spur small donors to give to the DNC.

“They’ll be able to say, look, we’re not taking money from lobbyists,” he said.

Despite Mr. Obama’s fundraising success, the DNC so far has struggled to generate much cash compared to the Republican National Committee.

Mr. Obama also has refused to take money from political action committees, though independent PACs have spent more than $11 million on his behalf, far more than for any other candidate during the Democratic primary.

Obama campaign officials said they have no control over those expenditures and have asked these groups to halt the practice.