Presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama, exerting his new power as leader of his party, has told the Democratic National Committee to eschew all contributions from Washington lobbyists and political action committees.
Obama has spurned money from lobbyists and PACs ever since he declared himself a candidate for president. On Thursday, he extended that policy to the DNC.
Speaking in Bristol, Va., he told a cheering crowd: "We will not take a dime from Washington lobbyists or special interest PACs. We're going to change how Washington works. They will not fund my party. They will not run our White House. And they will not drown out the voice of the American people when I'm president of the United States of America."
Obama also dispatched a close adviser, consultant Paul Tewes, to the DNC; he'll work with chairman Howard Dean, who keeps his job.
Lobbyists have been fundamental to most modern presidential campaigns — and controversial, too. But never before have they been treated this harshly, as pariahs, as Obama and Republican John McCain joust to be the reformer of Washington's sinful ways.
McCain's campaign hit back at Obama on Thursday, pointing out that he has been endorsed by the progressive group MoveOn.org, which is organized as a PAC. MoveOn this week is urging its members to contribute to Obama.
While Obama's policy seems to be meant to apply to traditional PACs that are linked to corporations, trade associations and unions, neither he nor his campaign has spelled that out. McCain's campaign suggested that Obama is guilty of "hyPACrisy."
Of course, neither candidate is totally pure. Obama rejects money from lobbyists, but he takes campaign advice from some of them. McCain is happy to take their cash, but last month he purged his staff: Lobbyists had to choose between their campaign positions and their lobbying gigs.
Obama is also out front on the issue of fundraising transparency. He said this week that from now on, reporters can come in and cover his money events. McCain, despite his reputation as the primary author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and other reforms, holds his fundraising events behind closed doors. When asked why, he replied, "It's because the people who are raising the money request that."
For the DNC, the bottom-line question is whether Obama's edict will hurt the budget. The answer is almost certainly no. The DNC has had serious problems raising money. While the Republican National Committee had more than $40 million cash-on-hand as of April 30, the DNC reported just over $4 million. Lobbyists and PACs account for just 7 percent of DNC fundraising.
At the same time, the Obama campaign has reinvented political fundraising. It now claims more than 1.5 million donors, who can be asked to steer a little cash to the party.
Political scientist Tony Corrado of Colby College says it's a smart trade-off: "You've given up what will probably be a couple of million dollars' worth of funding, in exchange for hopefully tens of millions of dollars in individual contributions."
So for Democrats, this may be a chance to do well while looking good.