HIGHLAND PARK, ILL.—In the last six months, White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) used his HOPEFUND political action committee—which has accepted contributions from federal lobbyists—to make donations to Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, states with the first presidential votes in January.
The latest Federal Election Commission report, filed on Nov. 15 and covering the period between July and Nov. 5, reveals that after a long stretch of little activity, Obama picked up the pace of donations from his HOPEFUND warchest in recent months with heavy giving in September and October.
The donations were made to several categories of Democrats: Senate Democratic incumbents; House Democrats who back Obama’s presidential bid; unpledged contenders from early states; selected members of the Congressional Black Caucus; some early states party warchests and five Illinois lawmakers.
Obama decided not to take money from federal lobbyists or political action committees money when he opened his presidential campaign fund in February.
The Obama ban on taking money from these sources is a central theme in his campaign and is featured in his stump speech and political advertising. He is critical of chief rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for accepting money from federal lobbyists in her campaign.
However, Obama did take money from these sources for his state senate, U.S. House and 2004 U.S. Senate race, his own HOPEFUND political action committee and his 2010 U.S. Senate re-election war chest. The latest report shows he is using money gained from sources he now will not touch to donate to players who could help his presidential bid.
Alex Knott of Congressional Quarterly, in a story published last week, notes that Obama “has been the most aggressive of presidential candidates in using his leadership PAC to help the campaigns of state and local candidates and not coincidentally, the funds spent that way have gone to Democrats in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. More than one-third of his leadership PAC money is being used this way.”
Knott writes, “While the practice of using these PACS to cement a politician’s power base while also helping their party’s chances in elections is nothing new, Obama and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. are the only ones among the Democratic candidates to make active use of this. Among Republican Presidential candidates, only former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani appears to be using leadership PAC money this way, albeit to a much lesser extent.
“…Hopefund,” established by Obama, made a total of $118,000 in donations to local parties and politicians through Nov. 5, the campaign reported this week. Even though federal campaign finance law requires that leadership PAC donations be spent only on “party-building,” and not for the benefit of the donor’s own political prospects, it appears that Obama faces little risk of accusations that he is skirting the law,” Knott writes.
According to an analysis by CQ’s MoneyLine, about 60 percent of all Hopefund money “contributed this cycle has gone to states besides Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Yet even a good chunk of the $329,000 Hopefund has given to campaigns for Senate and House races — $57,000, to be exact — has been heavily focused on those states holding early presidential voting events.
"The PAC has donated to all four Democrats in Iowa’s congressional delegation — Sen. Tom Harkin , who is up for re-election in 2008, and Reps. Bruce Braley , Dave Loebsack and Leonard L. Boswell — as well as Selden E. Spencer, who is challenging Rep. Tom Latham in one of the state’s two Republican-held districts. Hopefund also gave donations to Paul W. Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter , the Democrats who in 2006 captured both of New Hampshire’s U.S. House seats from Republican incumbents,” Knott writes.
Obama’s Hopefund also gave $5,000 last June to a political action committee controlled by South Carolina political power Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) , whose endorsement is being sought by all Democratic rivals. Obama donated to the warchests of Illinois House members Melissa Bean; Bobby Rush; Danny Davis; Luis Gutierrez and Jesse Jackson Jr.