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Sweet column: Obama acknowledges he is not for--contrary to what he has been saying--a ban on lobbyists in the White House

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MASON CITY, Iowa -- White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was forced to revise a critical stump line of his on Saturday -- a flat declaration that lobbyists "won't work in my White House" after it turned out his own written plan says they could, with some restrictions.


Obama, leading in this kickoff presidential vote state, has put federal lobbyists in his cross hairs as a centerpiece of his campaign.

Running against Washington is a major, populist campaign theme for Obama and rival former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who are locked in a contest with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). They have blistered Clinton for taking campaign donations from federal lobbyists; Edwards and Obama do not, although Obama did until he started running for president.

On a blitz through northeastern Iowa since Thursday, people continually asked Obama about how he could curb the power of lobbyists and special interests. His simple, compelling, but, it turns out, incomplete answer -- ban them from the White House -- earns him applause.

In Maquoketa on Thursday night Obama said: "I am running to tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over. They have not funded my campaign. They won't work in my White House."

But what Obama has actually proposed is more nuanced and complex and does provide a path for Washington lobbyists to be employed in an Obama White House.

After being challenged on the accuracy of what he has been saying -- in contrast to his written pledge -- at a news conference Saturday in Waterloo, Obama immediately softened what had been his hard line in his next stump speech.

Lobbyists "are not going to dominate my White House," he said during a town hall meeting in Waterloo, revising his stump line minutes after the news conference.

They "will not run my White House," he said in Charles City on Saturday night, hoarse from speaking so much during the day.

What Obama is actually proposing is a ban on any political appointee in an Obama administration from working on regulations or contracts "substantially related to their prior employer for two years," as well as a ban on an employer offering a "generous severance package" to induce a worker to take a job with a government agency that regulates his employer.

Obama also has plans to close the revolving doors, where people jump from government jobs to work for the industries they regulated.

In the news conference, Obama -- who last week was hit by the Clinton camp with questions about his past drug experimentation -- said he would "fire" any staffer involved in getting out negative stories. "I have been very clear to my campaign: I do not want to see research that is involved in trying to tear people down, personally. If find out that somebody is doing that, they will be fired."

Several news outlets, however, have published stories about Obama campaign attempts to get out negative press about Clinton. Political writer Ryan Lizza filed a report about potentially controversial stories about Clinton coming out of Obama's Chicago headquarters, and the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote the Obama camp "helped to place" a story about rogue Clinton bundler Norman Hsu.

Saturday, the Boston Globe editorial board endorsed Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), while the editorial board at the Des Moines Register endorsed Clinton and McCain.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 16, 2007 6:45 AM.

Sweet: Obama Iowa road trip. Day 2 on the bus. was the previous entry in this blog.

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