Sen. Barack Obama has been attempting to walk a political tightrope over how he believes President Bush should approach the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing. On the one hand, he was beaten to the gun in using the event to denounce the Chinese government's labor and human rights policies. Sen. Hillary Clinton first suggested that the president should boycott the opening ceremonies. On the other hand, his home of Chicago is pining to host the games in 2016, and many individuals on that city's committee don't want to see their bid threatened by political posturing.
And they have a heavy amount of personal political-financing clout to hold over Obama's head.
Indeed, a review of campaign finance records reveals that members of Chicago's Olympic bid committee have donated more than $170,000 to Obama's presidential campaign. This total doesn't include the more than $700,000 some of these officials have helped "bundle" on the senator's behalf. Nor does it entail the various personal and professional relationships that several committee members have with the Illinois Democrat.
In light of these pressures, Obama attempted to thread the needle last week, saying that the option of an opening ceremonies boycott should be on President Bush's table if China's leaders don't improve positions on key international issues.
"If the Chinese do not take steps to help stop the genocide in Darfur and to respect the dignity, security, and human rights of the Tibetan people, then the President should boycott the opening ceremonies," he said. "As I have communicated in public and to the President, it is past time for China to respect the human rights of the Tibetan people, to allow foreign journalists and diplomats access to the region, and to engage the Dalai Lama in meaningful talks about the future of Tibet. I am also deeply concerned about China's failure to support efforts to halt the genocide in Darfur. Regarding the Beijing Olympics this summer, a boycott of the opening ceremonies should be firmly on the table, but this decision should be made closer to the Games."
As the Olympics Games draw nearer, it will be interesting to see how this position evolves. Indeed, how strong Obama pushes for a boycott could, in part, be determined by the pushback he is getting from his Chicago roots.
As ABC News first reported, one of the senator's top campaign advisers and close friend, Valerie Jarrett, "is the vice chair of Chicago's bid committee." She has donated, according to campaign finance records, $2,300 to Obama's campaign, and according to an Obama insider, has "always been the other side of Barack's brain."
Jarrett is not alone among committee members who have strong Obama roots. John W. Rogers Jr. serves both on Chicago's bid and the senator's presidential campaign finance committee. He has helped Obama bundle more than $200,000 for his White House run.
Louis Susan, another Olympic and Obama finance committee member, has helped him bundle more than $200,000. In addition, there are several individuals who have helped bundle $100,000, and several more who have helped bundle $50,000 who share posts on the Olympic and Obama committees.
And the ties go beyond money. John Canning, another Chicago 2016 committee member, has been described by the Chicago Tribune as one of "Obama's allies in corner offices," as has fellow committee member William Osborn. Another individual serving on the Windy City's Olympic bid has phoned banked for Obama, while another signed a letter from environmental leaders endorsing the senator.
Taken together, this constitutes a large amount of personal and political influence. And it remains to be seen if and how the Chicago committee will react if they feel that a full-out call for a Beijing boycott by Obama affects their own bid for 2016.
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