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In raising money for his White House bid, Barack Obama has posed as an outsider in a town full of insiders. Instead of cozying up to Washington’s influence peddlers, the junior senator from Illinois has pledged to reject donations from lobbyists and political action committees-two of the sweetest honeypots 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 money or assistance from federal lobbyists.” So far, that uncompromising stance hasn’t seemed to hurt Obama’s fund-raising. In the first quarter of this year, the senator took in more than $25 million for the 2008 primary campaign, more than any of his Democratic rivals. Still, Obama hasn’t completely steered clear of big-business money. Just as with all the other presidential candidates, the majority of his contributions come from people in the business world, with corporate lawyers making up his single largest group of donors. And though Obama may be allergic to donations from business PACs, he apparently has no problem raising money from those who work for top companies, such as the more than $135,000 he received from the employees of Exelon Corporation, the Chicago-based utility. Like Obama, presidential contender John Edwards has made a public vow not to accept lobbyist or PAC contributions, though his pledge has received less attention. In contrast, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) has enthusiastically enlisted K Street to raise money for her campaign. It’s also worth nothing that Obama hasn’t always been so choosy about where he got his campaign cash. Of the $15 million that he raised to win Illinois’s open Senate seat in 2004, more than $2 million was given by lawyers and lobbyists, and about $1.2 million came from PACs. (All fund-raising numbers 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 PACs at law firms. Despite his no-PAC pledge, Obama is still getting plenty of money from D.C. lawyers for his 2008 campaign. In addition to making personal donations, many attorneys have organized fund-raisers for the senator. For example, Williams & Connolly’s Gregory Craig, who sits on Obama’s national finance committee, cohosted a March breakfast in Washington that 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 April event at the Columbus Club 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. And while lobbyists can’t contribute to Obama, his campaign is still taking money from attorneys at law firms with major lobby practices and corporate representations. Lawyers at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, for example, have donated in excess of $40,000 to the Illinois senator. The firm is currently advising companies such as Pixar Animation Studios Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Incorporated in government investigations, and also lobbies on behalf of AT&T Inc., the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, and the Business Roundtable. Attorneys at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which has one of the most prominent lobby practices in D.C., donated $14,765 in the first quarter of 2007 to Obama. Lawyers at Arnold & Porter, which represents Wyeth Corp. in the fen-phen cases and Big Tobacco companies in cigarette litigation, donated $9,400. And the senator picked up $15,800 from attorneys at Hogan & Hartson, which represents companies such as Boston Scientific Corporation and United States Cellular Corporation. 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 once a summer associate, have donated more than $100,000 to his 2008 campaign. The question, of course, is whether lawyers’ contributions are tied in any way to their firms’ varied representations. Many Washington attorneys 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 the personal maximum of $2,300 to Obama and cohosted a 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.” A version of this article originally appeared in Legal Times, a sibling publication of Corporate Counsel.

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