A recent editorial in The Chicago Sun-Times, published on May 14, attempted to defile an essay I wrote in these pages about Barack Obama’s fundraising channels and his ties to corporate America. The Sun-Times piece, written by former Clinton White House counsel Abner J. Mikva, challenged my claim that Barack isn’t taking on the pay-to-play politics we are all so used to in Washington. Instead Mikva asserted that the ethically minded Obama is “incorruptible”.
True, Obama has decided to not accept PAC money for his presidential bid, but that doesn’t mean the Illinois senator isn’t packing in tons of cash from the corporate sector (more on that shortly). True also that Obama’s campaign, like Howard Dean’s of 2004, is pocketing many small online donations at an average of $25 a pop. However, small donations from the Democratic grassroots do not mean he doesn’t also have his paws in the corporate cookie jar.
How can this be if companies cannot directly hand over cash to candidates for national office? Well, their employees can donate up to $2,300 per person. In my article I noted that Obama has raised money from several corporations, including Exelon, UBS, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, along with tobacco rich law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Of course there are others that have fattened the accounts of Obama for president that I didn’t mention, such as; Time Warner, Viacom, Williams & Connolly, Level 3 Communications, Credit Suisse Securities, Lehman Brothers and Ariel Capital.
So how can one assume that employee donations are representative of the companies they list on their donor forms? As OpenSecrets.org, a not-for-profit website dedicated to revealing the money trails of Washington, asserts, “Because of contribution limits, organizations that bundle together many individual contributions are often among the top donors to presidential candidates. These contributions can come from the organization’s members or employees (and their families).”
Hence why UBS and Exelon are on the top of Obama’s contributor list. Even so, are the millions of dollars donated by employers of these companies actually influencing Barack Obama’s positions?
Abner J. Mikva doesn’t think so. But you may connect the dots as you see fit.
Fact: Barack Obama believes nuclear power is “green” and told the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, of which Barack is a member, that Congress should allow “nuclear power to remain on the table for consideration”. Employees of Exelon, which is the nation’s largest nuclear power plant operator, have donated over $159,000 to Obama’s presidential campaign as of March 31, 2007. That amount has likely increased since the first public tallying of campaign contributions two months ago.
Fact: Obama, in one of his earliest Senate votes, departed with his own party and voted for class action “reform” legislation. The bill, as Ken Silverstein wrote for Harper’s, was “lobbied for aggressively by financial firms, which constitute Obama’s second biggest single bloc of donors.” An amendment to the legislation, which the senator opposed, would have capped credit card interest rates at 30%. Obama, unfortunately, didn’t see a need for any cap on such predatory lending.
Fact: Obama may not allow PACs to donate directly to his presidential campaign, but the young senator started a PAC of his own, which has donated to other Democratic Party members, all of whom are moderates, and several are even staunch conservatives like Sen. Joe Lieberman (Obama backed Lieberman over Ned Lamont). Obama’s leadership PAC has been loaded with the help of credit card lobbyist Jeffrey Peck (who, subsequently, opposes a cap on credit card interests) and big oil proponent Rich Tarplin.
By pointing out these truths I am not implying that Obama is the most corporate entrenched candidate running for the presidency. That award may indeed go to Sen. Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, I think it is pertinent for voters to know where candidates stand on important issues as well as what may have influenced these positions.
Aside from the purported corporate pressure on Obama’s campaign, there are other issues we should all consider before jumping on the Obama express — such as his lopsided support for Israel and his all-options-on-the-table approach to dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Sen. Obama may not completely support the war in Iraq, but he has yet to put forward an agenda for the region that offers a critical departure from the failed Bush doctrine. On the Middle East, Obama is an avid hawk. On social movements in South America Obama has argued that citizens there should not follow left-leaning populists like Hugo Chavez, and advocates in his book The Audacity of Hope, that these poor nations should embrace free-market capitalism instead.
By and large Barack Obama is a mainstream Democratic candidate that is exciting many due to his personal, charismatic zeal. There is no question that Obama is a gifted politician, and his youth only adds to the mystique that he’s offering an alternative to business as usual in Washington.
Despite all of these claims, I still have to depart from Abner J. Mikva’s editorial in The Chicago Sun-Times, which insists Obama can’t be influenced. I connect the dots differently than Mikva, and see Sen. Barack Obama as just another ineffectual politician, who is more concerned with being elected than with standing by the ideals of his constituents.
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.