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In raising money for his White House bid, Barack Obama has so far played the outsider in a town full of insiders. Instead of cozying up to Washington’s influence peddlers, the junior senator from Illinois has made good on a pledge to try to clean up Washington by eschewing donations from lobbyists and political-action committees — two of the sweetest honey pots in all of politics. “We don’t accept money from federal lobbyists and PACs. Our policy is clear,” says Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for Obama’s campaign. “We aren’t interested in accepting the money or the assistance from federal lobbyists.” So far, that uncompromising stance hasn’t seemed to hurt Obama’s campaign pocketbook. In the first quarter of this year, the senator took in more than $25 million for the primary races, more than any of his rivals for the Democratic nomination. Still, although his campaign likes to emphasize its long list of yeoman donors and its online fund-raising prowess, Obama hasn’t completely steered clear of big-business money. Just as with all the other presidential candidates, the majority of Obama’s contributions come from people connected to corporate America, with corporate lawyers making up Obama’s single largest group of donors. Although his campaign may be allergic to donations made directly from the PACs of Fortune 500 companies, it apparently has no problem raising cash from those who work for such companies, such as the more than $135,000 it took from the employees of Illinois-based Exelon, a nuclear-power company. Many of those donations came from a Chicago fund-raiser that Frank Clark, chairman of Exelon subsidiary ComEd, hosted in February at the Metropolitan Club in the Sears Tower. ComEd employees have donated more than $20,000 to Obama. Like Obama, presidential contender John Edwards has made a public vow not to accept lobbyist and PAC contributions (though his pledge has received less attention). In contrast, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has enthusiastically enlisted K Street to raise money for her campaign. To some Washington power players, Obama’s conspicuous move to distance himself from lobbyists and other special interests is a shrewd political calculation. “I think [not taking lobbyist and PAC contributions] is something that is likely to grow as a practice, and I think Barack deserves great credit for taking the initiative,” says former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who is now a special policy adviser at Alston & Bird and is advising the Obama campaign. Daschle is not a registered lobbyist. “You can set your parameters and guidelines and live within those guidelines as best you can,” he says. But Daschle concedes that business and political campaigns are inexorably intertwined. “It’s important to be idealistic,” he says, “but also important to be realistic.” LEGAL TENDER It’s fair to note, however, that Obama hasn’t always been so choosy about where he got his campaign cash. In his 2004 race for Illinois’ open Senate seat, Obama relied heavily on Washington lobbyists to bolster his profile among the influence community. At the time, Obama raised almost $15 million to capture the open seat. Of that amount, 32 percent came from out-of-state donations, and more than $2 million was given by lawyers and lobbyists. About $1.2 million came from PACs. (All campaign tallies in this story come from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.) In fact, Obama’s decision to not take corporate money didn’t come about until he started seriously entertaining the idea of making a White House bid. From 2005 to 2006, Obama received almost $100,000 from political-action committees, including $8,339 from law-firm PACs such as those at Barnes & Thornburg, DLA Piper, and Holland & Knight. “The request came from our colleagues in our Chicago office. Those people are still active in the campaign, even though our PAC has obviously not been able to support him,” says William Minor, a campaign-finance lawyer at DLA Piper, which donated $10,700 to Obama from its PAC prior to his White House run. In Washington, where political giving is the coin of the realm, Obama’s decision has obviously cut off the traditional stream of law-firm and lobby-shop PAC donations. Instead, this time around Obama has relied more on individual leaders in the legal community, including Gregory Craig of Williams & Connolly, who served as assistant and special counsel to President Bill Clinton; Timothy Broas of Winston & Strawn; and Kenneth Berlin of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Besides giving personally, many lawyers have organized fund-raisers for Obama. For example, Williams & Connolly’s Craig, who sits on Obama’s national finance committee, co-hosted a breakfast on March 7 in Washington, which raised more than $200,000. To date, Williams & Connolly lawyers have individually donated almost $50,000 to Obama’s campaign. Orlan Johnson of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy has also been drumming up donations for Obama. Johnson hosted an event earlier this month at the Columbus Club in Union Station that raised more than $400,000, pulling largely from the Washington legal community. “It just became one of those things where you tap into a couple hundred people who you know and find out who is willing to give,” says Johnson, who donated the maximum personal contribution of $2,300 to Obama. Though they like to joke that they’ll support Obama just because he won’t take their money, many lobbyists who work at law firms have seen their lawyer counterparts give generously to the Illinois senator’s campaign. At WilmerHale, for example, lawyers alone have donated in excess of $40,000 to Obama. Those giving include high-profile partners such as Stephen Oleskey, former deputy attorney general of Massachusetts; William Kolasky, co-chairman of the firm’s antitrust group; and David Ogden, co-chairman of the firm’s government and public policy litigation group. The firm is well known for its corporate securities practice as well as for housing heavy hitters such as William McLucas, who represents companies such as Pixar and UnitedHealth in securities investigations. The firm also lobbies on behalf of AT&T, the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, and the Business Roundtable. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld lawyers also donated $14,765 in the first quarter of 2007, with four lawyers maxing out their contributions to Obama’s campaign. Arnold & Porter lawyers, long known for representing Wyeth Corp. in the fen-phen cases and Big Tobacco companies, donated $9,400 to Obama. Hogan & Hartson lawyers were likewise generous, donating $15,800 to Obama so far. Hogan represents companies such as Boston Scientific, U.S. Cellular Corp., and Starwood Hotels. Obama also received major contributions from firms with strong Illinois roots, including Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, and Winston & Strawn. Together, lawyers from the three firms put more than $82,000 into the senator’s campaign coffers. Employees at Chicago-based Sidley Austin, where Obama was a summer associate, have donated more than $190,000 to presidential candidates in the first quarter of the year. More than 55 percent of that has gone to Obama. LAWYERS IN LOVE? The relevant question, of course, is whether such generous tithing on the part of high-profile lawyers is in any way tied to their firms’ varied representations. Many Washington lawyers — including Harvard alumna Caroline Brown of Covington & Burling, who donated $2,300 — cite personal connections to Obama as the reason for giving. In addition, many lawyers don’t see their contributions as being any different from donations made by people from other professions. “If you are going to say that nobody who has any interest in who gets elected can contribute, you are going to disenfranchise a lot of people,” says Robert Litt, a partner at Arnold & Porter who donated $2,300 and co-hosted an Obama fund-raiser. “Union workers have the potential financial interest if their jobs are going to be affected by free trade, reporters to the extent someone is going to enforce the First Amendment.” Though Obama has clearly distanced himself from K Street, he still has plenty of supporters there who are doing what they can to improve his chances of gaining the presidency. “We’ve heard from a number of lobbyists who are disappointed, who aren’t able to contribute, who feel as positively as we do about him. . . . There are many ways to contribute to a campaign in addition to just giving,” says Williams & Connolly’s Craig. And some didn’t take the campaign’s ban on lobbyists’ money seriously. At least 43 lobbyists tried to donate to Obama during the first quarter of 2007. The campaign returned more than $50,000 in checks from such lobbyists as Thurgood Marshall Jr. of Bingham McCutchen, Barbara Eyman of Powell Goldstein, and Marianne Smythe of WilmerHale. “I wasn’t aware of the policy, but I respect the policy,” says William Sarraille, a health-care lobbyist at Sidley Austin in Washington. Sarraille was one of at least four lawyers at Sidley whose donations were returned because they were registered to lobby for clients such as General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck. Several lobbyists have been meeting to discuss policy issues in the event Obama comes looking for experts. These lobbyists include Broderick Johnson of Bryan Cave, Thomas Walls of McGuireWoods Consulting, and Stan Fendley, a lobbyist for glass company Corning Inc. Many are wondering whether they’ll be tapped to act as surrogates on specialized issues, as they have during past presidential elections. “Do I think his and other campaigns will call on downtown expertise? The answer is, I would hope so,” says Jimmy Williams, vice president of the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Association. But Obama’s camp is steering clear of confirming whether lobbyists will be allowed to get more formally involved with the campaign. “Our policy advisers are a diverse group of experts in their fields, but our standard is clear: We do not accept fund-raising help or assistance from federal lobbyists,” says Obama spokeswoman Psaki. Obama supporter Williams thinks that, despite Obama’s no-lobbyist donation pledge, the senator understands the need to get corporate America on board. “This is a guy that is focused on big-picture stuff. That’s not to say he neglects corporate America,” Williams says. “At the end of the day, corporate America combined with consumers makes the economy.”
Anna Palmer can be contacted at [email protected].

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