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Edwards Linked to Lobbyist Money

From Associated Press

Although Democrat John Edwards says he hasn’t taken a dime from Washington lobbyists for his presidential campaign, he has accepted thousands of dollars from people in the capital’s lobbying profession or their spouses and children.

The givers range from former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta, a registered Washington lobbyist, to the head of the National Education Assn., the nation’s premier teachers’ lobby, an Associated Press review of Edwards’ campaign finance reports found.

Edwards’ campaign said it accepted the money because the donors weren’t registered to represent a specific client at the time of their donation, even though they may have been listed as Washington lobbyists beforehand or afterward.

“Sen. Edwards’ policy is to refuse money from people who might lobby in front of him or other government officials,” campaign spokeswoman Kim Rubey said.

Podesta was registered with his brother’s lobbying business in 2002 and registered anew in January to lobby for two new tax-exempt think tanks he formed. In between, he gave a $500 check to Edwards.

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“This is not the plank in his platform that caused me to want to give him any money,” Podesta said of Edwards’ position that lobbyists have corrupted politics and should be banned from donating to candidates.

Edwards’ definition of lobbyist hinges on whether someone meets the government’s threshold for formally registering as a lobbyist, based on money earned or time and money spent seeking to influence Congress or the Bush administration.

Even if donors lobby at the state level or run firms or organizations that lobby Congress, their money is accepted by Edwards as long as they are not personally registered.

For instance, Edwards, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, received a $500 donation from NEA Executive Director John Wilson. Wilson himself isn’t a registered lobbyist, but the union he runs spends about $1 million a year lobbying in the nation’s capital.

Wilson, who used to lobby for a teachers group in Edwards’ home state of North Carolina, said he has known Edwards for years and considers him a friend.

“Generally, there have been times when he’s called me and asked my opinion on something,” he said. “He’s just someone who naturally is a strong supporter, so I’ve never really felt the need to ask him for any special vote or that kind of thing.”

Edwards’ portrayal of himself as a Washington outsider annoys the Democratic front-runner, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, who pointed out in a debate Sunday that Edwards has been in the Senate for the last five years: “That seems to me to be Washington, D.C.,” Kerry said.

Edwards accepted $2,000 from Washington power broker Vernon E. Jordan Jr., a partner in Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a law firm that earns millions each year lobbying for clients. Jordan is a friend and advisor of former President Clinton.

Edwards received $2,000 from Samuel “Sandy” R. Berger, a former Clinton national security advisor who is now chairman of Stonebridge International, a Washington consulting firm whose work in the last year has included lobbying for companies interested in business opportunities in Iraq. Berger himself doesn’t lobby, a spokeswoman said.


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