Even as Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has intensified his attacks on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for her ties to K Street, he has been reaching out to lobbyists to provide volunteer manpower in early primary states.
Obama has made no secret of his disdain for lobbyists’ role in the political process. He has refused to accept their campaign checks for his presidential bid and is trying to use the issue to help close the gap with frontrunning Clinton by blasting what he calls her reliance on special-interest money.
But this week the Obama campaign e-mailed the members of each of its 42 policy committees — a roster of hundreds of professionals, academics and lobbyists helping Obama formulate his positions — and asked them to spend at least a week in the states hosting the first contests of the nomination fight.
“If you do indicate interest in working in an early state, you will be contacted by campaign staff in the appropriate state to work out the schedule and logistical details of your visit,” a memo sent to policy committee members this week read. The memo linked to a sign -up form on the Obama campaign Web site that promises “a challenging and thrilling experience that you’ll never forget.”
The bulk of the policy committee members appear to hail from corporations, investment houses, think tanks and universities. But registered federal lobbyists are represented as well.
On the technology/media/telecom committee, for example, lobbyists make up at least 23 of the 159 members.
Among those two dozen lobbyists: Lawrence Walke of the National Association of Broadcasters, Joel Wiginton of Sony, Paul Brown of BKSH & Associates and Edward An of Time Warner.
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said early-state volunteers are performing tough work for no pay because they are committed to the campaign — not to try to reap inside influence with the candidate.
“We’re building the largest grass-roots campaign in the history of presidential politics and encouraging supporters who don’t live in the early states to provide a boost to our organizational efforts on the ground,” he said. “We welcome the thousands of volunteers from across the country who are giving up their time to drive shuttles, distribute literature and drive 4x8s into the ground for nothing in return but the opportunity to change our politics.”
Nevertheless, several lobbyists supporting Obama said his criticism of their role in the process is wearing thin. Some said they were irked that a campaign that has maligned lobbyists for political gain is now asking them to volunteer.
“If you’re taking the position that lobbyists are not a part of your campaign and you won’t accept their money, it’s a little disingenuous to turn around and basically ask them for in kind support by volunteering,” one lobbyist backing Obama said on the condition of anonymity.
FEC guidelines allow lobbyists or anyone else to volunteer with a campaign — without categorizing that time as an ‘in kind’ contribution — as long as they are not reimbursed by their employer.
The call for lobbyists, among others, to roll up their sleeves in the early contests came as Obama launched a fresh attack at Clinton for raising money from the K Street crowd.