Debating Barack Obama’s Cash Flow

A Maverick or a Kidder?

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, 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 employees 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 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.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. James said on May 16th, 2007 at 8:21am #

    I disagree. Obama is the real deal – the man left behind a lucrative career as an attorney to work as a community organizer in Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods, prior to his entry into Illinois politics. If this doesn’t show a committment to social justice, I don’t know what does. As a national-level politician, he has no choice but to play the “game” to at least some extent in order to be a viable candidate.

  2. Ato said on May 16th, 2007 at 9:13am #

    You should have left the rejoinder written by Abner Mikva alone. Your trying to rubbish the truth he presented makes you come out as very infantile and amateurish.
    If you are suggesting that Obama’s donations came from corporations and not individuals then you should be bold enough to also state that Barack should be arrested as he has violated the law.
    You are definitely not well educated on campaign fianance, hence your amateurish article. Corporations are barred from donating, individuals aren’t. If employees of a particular company and their families are donating to a candidate it doesn’t mean the money is coming from the corporation’s coffers. You can’t twist facts.
    But if you insist on twisting facts, then apply that same illogical argument to all the other candidates and we’ll see who’s got his hands fully dipped into the corporate cookie jar. Use the same parameters to measure Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, then do the same with the GOP candidates, and you’ll see you don’t make any sense and are very biased and infantile.

  3. Hatuxka said on May 16th, 2007 at 12:36pm #

    So you disagree. With the facts cited above? So he once was a community organizer and this shows that he couldn’t have supported Lieberman, screwed the public with his corporatist votes and shilled for the nuclear industry as he is documented to have done, each based on huge contributions from powerful monied interests? I do agree with you he is “playing the game”, which you seem to tacitly accept as one of sucking up to the powerful and carrying their water to the detriment of those he supposed to help, all so he can get elected.

  4. Elsa said on July 6th, 2007 at 4:25pm #

    I want to vote for the first time, but as I read, I’m reminded of why I never have done so. What for? Even if Barak Obama were not intent on giving all people (not real health care that could keep them alive) “health care” insurance, there would still be a very crooked congress and senate with which to contend. Even now, I don’t really understand the issues over campaign contribution: lists of corporate contributors are to be found everywhere—does this mean that companies actually have blocks of employees write a check to campaigns, or what? That seems a bit strange, but must be what goes on. America is a truly bizarre place! Whatever the case, I have health insurance—and have nearly been killed (truly) by doctors more than once. And you can’t complain. Getting the information about what happened after an illness is too difficult. So many people just can’t live here, or build wealth anymore. Then people yell at those like me, who just don’t vote. But I read all this…and think…for what? For whom? How DOES this campaign money get to the “candidates?”

  5. Jasen said on November 8th, 2007 at 10:29am #

    John Edward is the only Democratic contender that isn’t talking about expanding nuclear energy. The fact is that the money it would take to build these nuclear plants would have a lot more effect on cleaning up the atmosphere if it were spent increasing efficiency of existing coal plants. Nuclear energy has always been a close partner of the military industrial complex. The toxic waste produced from nuclear plants cannot be disposed of safely. Currently it is driven accross the country through many of our cities on its way to Yucca Mountain. The rrisks of nuclear energy alone make it a poor choice. Currently Denmark and Spain are leading the world in wind turbine production. Catching up with these countires in truely renewable energy technologies would be a far more responsible choice than allowing the influece of the uranium mining and nuclear industires.

    As far as supporting Lieberman and preventing a cieling on interest rates go – if these facts were more widely publisized I am confident that Obama would loose the majority of his supporters.