Be careful not to throw stones when you live in a glass house. As I have pointed out many times, when Barack Obama accuses other candidates of questionable ethics and unsavory connections to lobbyists, he really needs to be careful. Even though the media aren't uniformly good at their job (see this), there are some journalists and some media outlets that still take their responsibility seriously:
Last week, Obama hit John McCain for hiring "some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington" to run his campaign; Obama's aides say their candidate, as a foe of "special interests," has refused to take money from lobbyists or employ them.
Yet, David Axelrod (the subject of this Newsweek article) and Barack Obama's chief "message (and image) minder" - is no less a lobbyist (if we agree that the term lobbyist refers to an individual who accepts payment to "influence" others, generally with regard to the type and scope of public policy) than those employed by Sen. John McCain and other political candidates, in spite of Axelrod's denial of this fact.
Neither Axelrod nor his partners at ASK ever registered as lobbyists for Commonwealth Edison—and under Illinois's loose disclosure laws, they were not required to.
In spite of these "loose disclosure laws" Axelrod and his firm have been hired by major corporations to establish what are euphemistically referred to as "grassroots groups" that oppose or support specific public policy proposals. In Axelrod's case (and in the case of his "advertising" firm, ASK), one of these "grassroots campaigns" was purchased on behalf of Cablevision to oppose the construction of a new stadium for the New York Jets. In another (unsuccesful ASK bid), a "grassroots" organization was established to oppose an Illinois state proposal that would have forced hospitals to provide more medical care to the indigent.
...[T]he activities of ASK (located in the same office as Axelrod's political firm) illustrate the difficulties in defining exactly who a lobbyist is. In 2004, Cablevision hired ASK to set up a group similar to CORE to block a new stadium for the New York Jets in Manhattan. Unlike Illinois, New York disclosure laws do cover such work, and ASK's $1.1 million fee was listed as the "largest lobbying contract" of the year in the annual report of the state's lobbying commission.
Leaving aside for the moment Obama's oft-repeated claim that he was a principal in getting "tougher" lobbying reform measures passed in Illinois, the fact that Axelrod's firm seems no less eager to shill for corporate clients (think Exelon, Cablevision, hospital "corporations") under the guise of "grassroots campaigns" raises another question of honesty: If Axelrod believes these "campaigns" are above-board (e.g., not lobbying in the dirty money sense), why the euphemism? As Ellen Miller (Sunlight Foundation) notes:
"There's no way with a straight face to say that's not lobbying..."
Then of course there is the matter of Axelrod's ties to Exelon Energy:
One of them, Exelon, lobbied Obama two years ago on a nuclear bill; the firm's executives and employees have also been a top source of cash for Obama's campaign, contributing $236,211.
Yet, Axelrod says - with an apparently straight face - that what he and ASK do isn't lobbying because he doesn't carry around bundles of cash in black attaches to "influence" huge corporate clients:
Axelrod says there are still huge differences between him and top McCain advisers... "I'm not going to public officials with bundles of money on behalf of a corporate client," Axelrod says.
For some excellent background on Axelrod's role and rise in both Chicago Democratic politics and in the national political scene, The New York Times ran this excellent investigative piece/profile in 2007. More informative, though, is the "story" behind the story - the packaging and selling of politics and political candidates (foremost among them, Barack Obama). It is striking to read this year-old article (a foretelling of what Barack Obama was fashioned to be) and to see the "package" we have before us today.
As I posted in "NEWS FLASH", the question grows louder and persists: who and what is Barack Obama, really? What does HE stand for? What are we getting? And why are we - the voters - simply supposed to "accept" him (as if we would simply accept any old body for POTUS) without question? We have far too much at-stake now to "simply accept" a candidate for the presidency without knowing who h/she is, what h/she stands for, what his/her beliefs and philosophies are, and what his/her plans are for dealing with the very serious crises we face.