Opinion: Turns out, some Obama PAC money came from PACs


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Before he ostentatiously stopped taking money from political action committees to run for president, Sen. Barack Obama quietly took money from political action committees.

As a presidential candidate, Obama claims to be an outsider eager to shake up the Washington establishment by refusing to accept donations from political action committees and Washington lobbyists. This year, they’re the bad guys.

But this wasn’t always the case.

Back in 2005 and 2006, Obama raised $123,283 from other political action committees and put them into a political action committee of his own. He called it Hopefund.


Hopefund is what is known as a “leadership PAC,” a frequent target of campaign watchdogs because it can raise money in much larger bundles than individual candidates. The Candidate of Hope from Illinois followed the example set by Senate and House members who establish such accounts to raise money and then spread it around to other politicians in the hopes of gaining new best friends. Legally, such PACs are supposed to operate independently and cannot coordinate with any campaigns of their owner.

Now that Obama is running for president, he’s handing out the bulk of Hopefund money to politicians and groups who happen to be in early presidential voting states, as the Washington Post’s John Solomon noted the other day. The pace of giving has increased in recent months and this has led to some remarkable coincidences.

New Hampshire state Sen. Jacalyn Cilley, for instance, received $1,000 from Obama’s PAC last summer. Six days later she happened to endorse the same Obama for president. ‘I endorsed him because I believe in him and his policies,’ she said.

Likewise, Obama’s PAC recently felt moved to donate $9,000 to Rep. Paul Hodes, who happens to have been the first member of Congress from New Hampshire to endorse Obama early this year.

With a straight face Obama spokesmen deny there’s any connection between his...

presidential campaign and the PAC donations. ‘Sen. Obama has long been doing whatever he can to help elect fellow Democrats all across the country,’ said Joshua Earnest.

Of course, opposing campaigns seek to capitalize on such coincidences. Yesterday, the Clinton campaign issued two statements on the Post article. One said, ‘On the campaign trail, Sen. Obama is outspoken about his desire to reform the campaign finance system so it was surprising to learn that he has been using his PAC in a manner that appears to be inconsistent with the prevailing election laws.’

When Obama’s camp appeared to ignore the jab, Clinton’s forces issued another statement, ‘The Obama campaign’s failure to deny that it committed campaign finance violations speaks volumes.’


But those who throw stones in political tit-for-tats should be careful. An Obama spokesman sought to turn the issue toward Clinton’s reluctance to reveal financial records and to order the release of millions of pages of documents relating to her years as first lady, which are now locked up in her husband’s presidential library until after the 2008 election.

And there is also the Clinton problem with fundraising bundler Norman Hsu and the coincidence, as detailed last summer by The Times’ Dan Morain, of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack giving up his own presidential campaign, endorsing Hillary Clinton and suddenly receiving thousands of dollars from Clinton supporters to help retire his campaign debt.

Altogether, Obama collected $4.4 million for Hopefund. The donations came from some of his biggest backers including the Illinois energy firm Exelon and the Illinois Pork Producers.

According to Federal Election Commission records, other significant Obama PAC donations in the last two years came from AT&T, Lockheed Martin, Comcast, and Walt Disney. There was even money from currently evil law firms that have major lobbying practices in Washington including Brownstein Hyatt and DLA Piper.

But that was then.

--Andrew Malcolm