Barack Obama

Just Another Corporate Candidate

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 Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in June 2008. Check out the Red State Rebels site. Read other articles by Joshua.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Maggie said on May 1st, 2007 at 8:30am #

    Although I’m usually all to eager to play the corporate puppet card, I hesitate to do so regarding Sen. Obama for a number of reasons. Before I cite them however, I think it’s important to recognize that politics today does require intense fundraising, as it has been allowed to become a ‘pay to play’ game that is not publicly financed.

    That being acknowledged, Obama did pass serious campain reform legislation while serving in the house of representatives for Illinois. That is an encouraging sign to me that points to a genuine interest in campaign finance reform on the national level. His current fundraising strategy does differ from other candidates: Firstly, he is not accepting any PAC or lobby money. Secondly, his grassroot fundraising efforts have far out-distanced his rivals’.

    So while I am always sceptical, at this point in the campaign I can only see the efforts of an honest man with the intent to win. I see no dirty-dealing on his part thus far — and I’m watching.


  2. Steve said on May 1st, 2007 at 8:53am #

    So, in all his years as governor of Vermont, he never took any big money? He never received any big checks to go toward his campaign? Especially toward the end when his races were very tight?

    Dean and Obama are from the same mold. Dean supporters (and liberal publications such as yourself) should be thanking your lucky stars for Obama. He’s a Howard Dean in an easy to swallow pill. And, regardless of what he says, Dean is an Obama supporter. Obama was a Dean Dozen and check out this YouTube clip (toward the end of it, Dean addresses Obama):

  3. Mike O said on May 1st, 2007 at 10:07am #

    Oh come on. I don’t believe this. Obama is having enough trouble from the right without having to deal with this garbage too. Obama’s not some idealistic leftist who stays “pure”, fights the good fight, and then goes down to defeat. He knows how the game is played, and that it takes a massive war chest to even think about being a viable candidate. If he doesn’t get the money from big business, where is he going to get it from? He’s already broken records for grass roots fundraising, but that’s not nearly enough. He has signalled his readiness to do a deal with the Republican nominee to reduce the cost of the general election, but he’s got to win the Democratic nomination first. Obama’s the best chance you guys have of having some influence in the White House after 2008. He’s not perfect, but as far as professional politicans go, he’s a whole lot better than the realistic alternatives.

  4. Gary Kleppe said on May 1st, 2007 at 12:54pm #

    Is there a cite for those donor totals (the $165,000 from UBS, etc.)? I tried the FEC web site and only saw a huge list of individual donors sorted alphabetically.

    I agree that Obama is a phony, but if we just list numbers without sourcing then his supporters can claim that we made them up.

  5. Joshua Frank said on May 1st, 2007 at 2:25pm #

    First, Dean was always a big money, big business governor — he just used the grassroots during his run for prez. I have a long chapter about this in Left Out! In a nut shell, Dean threatened party biz, or more aptly put, his supporters did. By and large they were more progressive than Dean.

    On the sourcing for Obama’s cash flow, please go here.

  6. True Blue Liberal » Barack Obama Just Another Corporate Candidate said on May 1st, 2007 at 7:46pm #

    […] Read more Obama […]

  7. R. Staveny said on May 1st, 2007 at 11:53pm #

    Your whole argument is proved ridiculous by your fourth paragraph, which shows you don’t understand the basics of political fundraising. Foreign corporations cannot give to presidential campaigns. American corporations can’t. Law firms can’t. Only individuals, limited to $4600, candidate committees, and PACs can (and most Presidential campaigns, maybe including Obama’s, are refusing to take PAC money.) If you look at the sidebar of the site linked in your comment 5, it says

    HOW TO READ THIS CHART: This chart lists the top donors to this candidate in the 2008 election cycle. The organizations themselves did not donate , rather the money came from the organization’s PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.

    Go here and search for UBS, for example:

    and you’ll see all the people who gave $200 or more and listed UBS as their employer. Either through ignorance or malice you make it sound like UBS wrote a $165,000 check to Obama’s campaign. Considering UBS has tens of thousands of employees in the U.S., that doesn’t seem like a large amount. (In fact, since donations under $200 are not individually reported in campaign finance reports, people who work for the company may have given even more.) Your mistakes pile up. Exelon is not just “a nuclear plant operator,” but the major electric company in Illinois and has 17,000 workers. Is it impossible some of them support their state’s senator on their own? Kirkland & Ellis has 1,100 attorneys, presumably not all of which are conservative. Giving $70,000 of Obama’s $25 million in contributions is not “a lot of money”. It took me two seconds of Googling to learn this information – you could have done the same before slandering Obama as another corporate candidate.

  8. David G. said on May 3rd, 2007 at 9:13am #

    Joshua Frnak didn’ t slander Obama, he stated the facts. If you link to the page on Obama, you’ll see that Frank cited everything exactly. Employees of big corporations are enticed to donate money to candidates at the company’s request. I know, I have worked for several that do so. Obama, indeed, is just another corporate candidate. And it is UBS America that donated to Obama. Not a foreign company, but Frank is right again UBS in Europe is huge.

  9. Joshua Frank said on May 3rd, 2007 at 10:29am #

    Companies themselves cannot give directly to candidates, they do, however have their employees give in bundles. They do this so they can get around limits. Obama does not accept PAC money, but company bundles are a-okay.

  10. Max Shields said on May 3rd, 2007 at 12:09pm #

    I’m amazed by the people who are posting on this blog. The whole point is to understand where the author is coming from and than raising questions regarding what he has to say.

    The basis of this piece is to demonstrate that Obama is no different than any of the other top tier candidates with regard to his ties to big money. He may have done this or that, but the fact is he’s tied tight to lobbies and corporate money.

    Our democracy has been eroded by this “on the take” campaigning – in other words, it’s pretty well shot through and through. The issue is NOT how to work within a corupted and decayed system – yes, Obama has learned how to play the game. Almost any fool can do that. But the price paid is our democracy. Why the hell do you think the government is completely tone deaf to the people, FGS?

    Mr. Frank doesn’t buy the status quo – so it seems – and neither do I. He’s not arguing within the frames of the status quo but stating the status quo is a failed state and to simply follow along is sheepish and doomed.

  11. cj oakwood said on May 9th, 2007 at 9:08pm #

    Obama is a MORON……all Shit and NO BULL……anybody that votes for this idiot is dumber than dog shit!

  12. Dissident Voice : Debating Barack Obama’s Cash Flow said on May 16th, 2007 at 3:03am #

    […] 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, […]

  13. Jeff said on June 10th, 2007 at 6:44pm #

    Although I agree with everything in the article, I would vote for Obama in a second! For one thing, I like who he is. That he went to Muslim schools shows me that he understands Muslims. That he’s black means we would smash another racial barrier. Those two things would be enough ‘change’ for me at the moment.

  14. Maggie said on September 13th, 2007 at 5:01am #

    Hi there,

    It’s Maggie again! Just wanted to pop back in to say that I have totally changed opinions about Barack Obama. He is a corporate puppet!

    The two things that made me really change were A) His idea to subsidize the HMO’s with tax money and B) His statement that ‘all options are on the table’ regarding Iran and Pakistan. He is not a peace candidate. He is not a citizen’s candidate. He is a corporate candidate.

    Well spotted Josh!

    Kucinich is the obvious choice anyway.

    Peace out!

  15. Power to the Sheeple said on February 4th, 2008 at 5:34pm #

    Wake up people! The politicians fool us every 4 years into thinking that they care about our interests. They have us divided into 2 camps (democrat and republican) so that they can conquer us! I will tell you that what all of us individuals out here want is FREEDOM and PROSPERITY. We want the same things!!! However we buy into this false dichotomy of the 2 party system, and we are fooled time and time again to vote for more autocrats who don’t give a damn about us, and are systematically working to destroy the middle class. SO WHAT if Obama is black? He represents CORPORATIONS, you know, the ones that are killing us! I’m not rich and neither are you, but we vote millionaires into office every 4 years. They are destroying the dollar and ensuring that we will be their slaves for the next few years until the system completely collapses–we can see the beginnings of this right now. Until we have a leader that represents US instead of the giant corporations, we will get MORE OF THE SAME. Fight back now! Vote Ron Paul in 2008–the only candidate that represents us, the people!

  16. Faces Of Truth said on March 17th, 2008 at 7:33pm #

    To reinforce the last quote made by Power- all people in America that
    care about their personal freedoms and liberties must realize that the only key to happiness and prosperity in this country is through
    constitutionally mandated limited government-limited in its power,
    as well as its intervention into our lives- anyone that tells you anything different is either blowing smoke in your face or selling something.
    Day after Day,Night after Night ,We are constantly bombarded with the
    same rhetoric by these so called ” representatives of the people”–WAKE UP!!!!!!!! Embrace your basic rights as man and as a citizen of the United States of America and learn the truth -now-
    visit: www.

  17. Celina said on August 26th, 2008 at 7:49am #

    At first I didn’t know how I was going to vote. I am a republican and think we do need a change. I just can’t get over Barack telling Hillary she is likeable enough. I think it shows a disrespect for women and those in his own party. I do understand that they were in competition at the time but there is a line you don’t pass and I believe he did. So I will be voting for Mc Cain.