Early Tuesday morning, Obama e-mailed his supporters, exhorting them to help him close a $3 million cash-on-hand advantage Clinton has opened up for their primary showdown.
“Hillary Clinton aggressively seeks money from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. She’s even said that these lobbyists represent real Americans. She’s wrong,” the e-mail read. “I think it’s time to turn the page on that kind of politics, and that’s why I have not accepted a dime from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs in this race ...
“Washington lobbyists have chosen their candidate and are determined to provide her with an overwhelming advantage. But you can even up this contest.”
LaBolt said there is no inconsistency in the campaign’s treatment of lobbyists. Obama, he said, has been clear that lobbyists are not inherently bad; rather, the problem with them is that they enjoy outsized influence in the political process through the campaign money they contribute. Having those lobbyists work side by side with other volunteers in early states ensures they are operating on an even playing field, LaBolt said.
But not all lobbyists are buying that explanation.
Gigi Sohn, an Obama supporter and lobbyist for Public Knowledge — a nonprofit that advocates for digital consumer rights — called the Senator’s position on lobbyists “absurd.”
“The loopholes in this anti-lobbyist campaign are big enough to drive a truck through,” she said. “It’s a superficial distinction and I don’t like being caught up in it.”
Sohn said though she only spends a “minuscule” amount of time actually lobbying, she registered as a lobbyist for the first time this year in an abundance of caution brought about by the new ethics rules.
The change in her status didn’t go unnoticed by the Obama campaign, which, over her objections, returned a $250 check she wrote it in March, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Speaking privately, another lobbyist supporting Obama said the distinction between campaign contributions and volunteer work the campaign is drawing makes sense. “When you’re a registered lobbyist bringing a corporate PAC check with you to an event, there’s a connection between money and politics. There’s a big difference between that and slapping on a pair of jeans and a sweater and a campaign button and going door to door in Iowa to hand out campaign literature,” the lobbyist said.
Still, he said, Obama should strive to explain that nuance on the campaign trail. “He needs to let people know he’s not afraid of lobbyists. He has friends who are lobbyists, and his office gets lobbied, but that doesn’t drive him away from his core principles. He needs to make that case more affirmatively.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.