Opinion: Depends on what your definition of lobbyist is

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Keeping true to his pledge not to take campaign funds from federal lobbyists, Sen. Barack Obama was raising bundles of money today way out in Sacramento, where, everybody knows, there are surely no lobbyists.

Not unless you count the 1,032 registered California lobbyists who billed their clients $77.9 million in the first half of this year, according to The Times’ Dan Morain.

Obama and John Edwards have been vocally critical of Hillary Clinton and Obama wagged his finger at her in Saturday’s YearlyKos Chicago forum for accepting campaign donations from lobbyists in Washington. She says they can represent ‘real Americans,’ as noted both in a recent item here and a complete story by James Rainey on Sunday. Obama maintains lobbyist donations create special influence, which he says he is really, really against.

But apparently state lobbyists are something different because, everyone knows, none of them can have any connections in Washington. And, Obama claims, he would have no influence in Sacramento as president, no influence unless you include, say, holding executive authority over the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has final approval over all state gambling compacts with Indian tribes.

‘It’s not perfect,’ Obama explained to reporters including Morain before the fundraising lunch. ‘I still have to raise money.’


Hosts for today’s Obama fundraiser included former controller and failed Democratic...

...gubernatorial candidate Steve Westly, who sent letters to the capital lobby corps inviting them to “an intimate fundraiser for Sen. Barack Obama.”

The cost: $1,000 for the lunch, $2,300 for lunch and reception.

California lobbyists aren’t in the habit of donating to candidates, at least not directly. State law bars them from contributing to state lawmakers. That suits them fine. They’d rather hang on to their hard-earned money. Of course, no law bars them from urging clients to donate, and they regularly do that and, you’ll be surprised to learn, the clients readily respond with donations.

The lunch was held just half a dozen blocks from the state Capitol, in the trendy downtown loft offices of developer Mark Friedman and attorney Howard Dickstein.

Now, Dickstein is not a lobbyist. However, he does represent several Indian tribes that do own some of California’s largest casinos. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s aides used the same office loft to work out details of the governor’s gambling compacts with Dickstein’s clients. Obama has expressed public skepticism about gambling as a way for states to raise money.

Now, Dickstein’s wife, Jeannine English, helped organize today’s event. English used to be a partner at former Democratic Congressman Rick Lehman’s Sacramento lobby shop, but since has left. See how this all starts to flow together?

The expensive event with power brokers was in stark contrast to how Obama started the day. He had breakfast at the modest home of Pauline Beck, a union home-care worker, and followed her on early morning rounds helping an elderly amputee, John Thornton, in Oakland. Times photographer Francine Orr was there as the Illinois Democrat swept, mopped, dusted, made coffee, did some laundry and dishes for Thornton, and listened to details of their lives.

Presumably, he did not ask them for donations. But the home visit was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union, which just may have a political interest in the presidential campaign.

--Andrew Malcolm