One cannot scale the ranks of the Democratic establishment without selling out to Washington insiders, and presidential aspirant Barack Obama is quite adept at playing the game. Since announcing his candidacy in early February, Obama has raised millions of dollars from corporate fat-cats and multinational corporations. While the young candidate has leaned heavily on law firms to which he has professional connections – he’s also not been afraid to dip in to the trough of Big Business. And it’s a sure sign Obama is a real contender for his party’s nomination.
When Howard Dean’s campaign began to gain momentum during the 2004 elections, the former Vermont governor had not flipped through his party’s corporate black book, and instead relied heavily on the grassroots to provide fuel for his presidential bid. The party’s elite, nervous and unsure that Dean could be one of them, taught the naïve doctor a harsh lesson: the establishment quietly sacked Dean for America because he had not accepted the way business is done in Washington.
Insiders were brought on at safe distance from John Kerry’s campaign, and a group, founded by Democratic fundraiser David Jones, ran vile ads attacking Dean during the Iowa caucus. Moderate Democrats labeled Dean a radical despite his conservative tenure in Vermont. John Edwards called him unelectable. The DLC was against him. Soon Dean was crushed at the polls and never recovered after his screaming speech following the disaster in Iowa. The elite had prevailed with Kerry and Edwards. The Deaniacs’ hopes were crushed. And it now seems Obama has vowed to not make the same mistake.
There’s no question that industry loves Barack. As of March 31, UBS, the second largest bank in Europe, has given over $165,000 to his campaign. The Exelon corporation, which is the nation’s largest nuclear plant operator, has donated almost $160,000. The investment Goliath, Goldman Sachs, has also fattened the pockets of Barack Inc. with over $143,000. Citigroup has given well over $50,000 with Morgan Stanley close behind at $40,000. Wall Street has Obama’s back.
Kirkland & Ellis, the conservative law firm that worked for the Democrats to limit ballot access of Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2004, also digs Obama, and have given his campaign over $70,000. That’s a lot of money to be tossing around so early in the campaign season. But the firm that represents GM and tobacco giant Brown & Williamson has plenty of cash to spare. They know Obama has a good chance at winning the nomination – if not this cycle, perhaps one down the road. In the meantime, Obama’s voice as a leading Democrat in the Senate grows more influential by the day. They know they’ll get their money’s worth in the long run.
The Obama campaign insists the funds he is raising won’t influence his positions on any matter, politically or otherwise. They assure us Barack is untouchable. But whom are they trying to kid? Frankly, big donors aren’t accustomed to handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars without any kickbacks. They don’t write checks out of good will, they do it because they in turn profit. As Ken Silverstein wrote in an online article for Harper’s:
To anyone who thinks Obama is blissfully oblivious to the fundraising imperative, consider the following: in one of his earliest votes as a senator, Obama helped pass a class-action “reform” bill that was a long-standing and cherished goal of business groups. (The bill was the focus of a significant lobbying effort by financial firms, who constitute Obama’s second-biggest single bloc of donors.)
Thanks in no part to Exelon I’m sure; Obama has championed nuclear power as a “green” technology. Through his elaborate fundraising channels Obama has also formed a close relationship with Skadden, Arps, one of the largest corporate law firms in the country and one of the largest contributors to the Democratic Party. Skadden, Arps was the legal team hired by David Jones to help derail Howard Dean. Consequentially they were also a top contributor to Kerry’s campaign in 2004.
Indeed, like the rest of his deep pocketed friends, they know Barack Obama has solidified himself as another corporate candidate.
JOSHUA FRANK is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red State Rebels, to be published by AK Press in March 2008.