WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's policy of fully disclosing the list of his top supporters who bundle campaign cash is ironically responsible for a recent New York Times story hitting him for taking contributions from people who are effectively lobbyists, despite a campaign pledge to shun such money.
"At least 15 of Mr. Obama's 'bundlers' -- supporters who contribute their own money to his campaign and solicit it from others -- are involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies. They have raised more than $5 million so far for the campaign," the Times reported on Friday. The story noted that the 15 are not registered lobbyists.
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama, told CNN on Sunday that it was the president's own practice of disclosing his bundlers' names that made the story possible. Republican candidates, who have not sworn off cash from registered lobbyists, are likely signing up bundlers from the same crowd, but voters won't be able to find out as long as they decline to disclose the information.
"Everyone should understand the reason why The New York Times can write that story is because the president is disclosing everyone who raises money for him. None of the Republican candidates are willing to do that," Axelrod said.
In voluntarily banning lobbyists from donating to his campaign, Obama raises the question of just who counts as a lobbyist. The campaign defines a lobbyist as someone who registers with the federal government as one, but a shadow industry of unregistered lobbyists exists in Washington, as people avoid registering under complex federal rules.
"You have people who really are, by any stretch of the imagination, lobbying Congress, lobbying the White House. They are lobbyists and they are bundlers -- that is, they ask other people to give money," CNN's Candy Crowley pointed out.
Axelrod defended the administration by arguing that, since no law requires that bundlers not be lobbyists, whatever steps Obama takes are better than nothing.
"The president has imposed on himself a ban on taking contributions from federal lobbyists. He has imposed on himself a ban from taking money from political action committees. But more importantly as president, he has ended the revolving door between industry and the government so he doesn't hire lobbyists to come in. The last administration you saw lobbyists come in, write the rules, write the laws, then go back to their jobs in industry. That is not going on right now. This is a profound change," Axelrod said.
In fact, some top White House officials have been exempted from that rule. Obama's chief of staff, William Daley, was a lobbyist for JPMorgan Chase, for instance.
"So we can quibble about issues like this, but when you look at the substance of what he's done, he's gone so much farther than anybody has ever gone before. Is it perfect? It's not perfect, Candy. We are not in a perfect political system," Axelrod said. "So it is not a perfect system. But is he better than anybody has ever been before on this? Has he made a real difference on this? Absolutely."