Sweet column: Obama's politically expedient ethics conversions. Earmarks latest example.

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barack Obama, who had been declining to reveal earmarks he requested in 2005 and 2006, finally did so Thursday and probably would prefer the story to be about how his campaign challenged Democratic presidential rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, to do the same for her entire Senate tenure.

Instead, since I have some reporting history here, I am noting a pattern that has emerged: This is Obama's third ethical conversion of convenience -- taking on a higher standard, but only when it appears to be politically expedient. Obama is making government transparency and ethics a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

The Obama record:

• • Obama took 23 subsidized rides on corporate jets in 2005, the first year he was in office. In January 2006, the very week he became the lead Senate Democrat on ethics, his office announced that in the future, his political war chest would pay the entire cost of using private planes.

• • Obama took donations from federal lobbyists and political action committees for his House and Senate races and his own Hopefund political action committee. He only stopped taking this political money -- speaking out against it -- when he launched his presidential campaign in February 2007.

• • Obama did disclose earmark requests he made in 2007; however, his office has been refusing since June, without explanation, to disclose earmarks Obama had sought previously. Thursday's decision to disclose came on the very day the Senate voted on a one-year earmark moratorium. It failed 71-29. Clinton and Obama voted in favor.

Obama and Clinton have signed on to this moratorium measure knowing one of them will face the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, who is leading the drive against earmarks and does not request them. Last month, McCain taunted Obama on lack of earmark disclosure. Obama will seek no earmarks for Illinois this year.

Obama's presidential campaign hosted a conference call Thursday to trumpet his new disclosures even as they were being posted on the Internet. The call featured Obama ally Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). McCaskill praised Obama's openness and said, "And I think if we are not willing to share things, like, you know, appointment calendars or earmarks, I think it is a bad sign for truly making a change in the way this place operates."

Since McCaskill raised the point: Obama has provided bare-bones information about his Senate schedule. I asked McCaskill about this. "I would think he would be happy to share information about how he spends his days," she said. He is not.

Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines said that Clinton "has made public the funding she has helped to secure and will make public the requests she submits this year."

Earmarks are tucked into legislation, controversial because they bypass review. Obama requested and did not secure $1 million for a hospital pavilion at the University of Chicago. Obama's wife, Michelle, is vice president for community and external affairs, now on leave, at the U. of Chicago Hospitals. Obama also sought money for the Center for Neighborhood Technology, where his neighbor Jacky Grimshaw is a honcho.

In 2005, Obama asked for $500,000 for Kids Voting USA, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization encouraging young people to vote.

In 2006, Obama requested $250,000 for the Chicago Park District's Obesity Prevention-Affordable Fitness Centers. He also asked for $8 million for a defense contractor linked to General Dynamics. Obama's Illinois co-finance chairman, Jim Crown, is on the company's board of directors.


Excellent. But why wasn't this commented on before the Edwards campaign was ignored by the national media out of existence? I think probably because some of it hadn't yet been ignored (the requests for information ignored by the Obama campaign) and maybe you were busy covering the day to day. But wasn't there SOMEONE from the Sun Times who could have handled this earlier?
Before we who really want to get the Oil barons who are bankrupting our country in everyway possible lost the one guy who could have beaten McCain? I'm talking about John Edwards--who gave Obama most of his LATEST campaign platforms (that website sure changed after Iowa when it was a 3 -way dead heat--despite mainstream media calling it a 2-way race) and could have most soundly beaten McCain.

"This is Obama's third ethical conversion of convenience."

My, how things 'change'.

Now it's three strikes and you're ETHICAL.

Ms. Sweet, keep up the good work. Exposing Obama's hypocrisy is important because if he wants to hold the most powerful job in the world, it's important that the voters know what an establishment, Washington D.C. politician he is. Also, please post what I put on here yesterday about Obama & Hillary both voting yesterday to raise income taxes by 3% on individuals making $31,850.00 a year and up. This is important because both have said they will only raise taxes on the rich. Well, making just under 32 grand a year isn't rich.

Obama,Obama you are not the candidate of "Hope and Change", you are the candidate of same as usual, the status Que of Washington and of Illinois. Obama doesn't have to put in earmark this year, his partner in the Senate Dick Durbin will do it for him. Wake up! American can't you see that, Obama is a very calculating and cunning politician. Even his campaign ad visors let it slip that he states one thing in his campaign, but will do another when in the White House.

By Leon H Wolf

It appears that Barack Obama, allegedly decent guy and agent of "change" in Washington, requested an earmark in 2006 for $1 million taxpayer dollars for the hospital where his wife works. Said hospital, by the way, gave Michelle Obama a huge raise (nearly $200,000, more than doubling her salary) in 2005 after Barack got elected to the United States Senate. Now, I know that there are lots of ways to talk about transactions like this involving public officials - quid pro quo, etc., but I prefer to call a crook a crook and just say that we're dealing with good, old fashioned, public corruption here.

I am having an especially hard time distinguishing Obama's actions here from those of, say, Duke Cunningham, who is currently in prison. I suppose you might say that Obama injected some more efficiency into the process by eliminating the middle man, but while I'm a big fan of efficient markets, generally speaking, I happen to think that there should not be any sort of market at all for the votes of public officials.

Perhaps these silly notions of ethical propriety are what Obama intends to "change" if he is elected President. If that's the case, I'll take the status quo, thanks. Without the quid.

Thank you for your incite and context concerning Obama. I stumbled on your column several weeks ago when I was trying to learn more about Obama and his dealings in the city of Chicago and the Rezko trial. You are the only reporter out there that is actually providing context to the facts. I wish your columns were linked to the Huffington Post or Drudge so that the pinheads could get the real story on Obama before it is too late.

Your comments are pretty much slanted negatively towards Obama. Did you comment on Naftagate that it was Clinton who initiated first call and wink to Canada? I don't think so. Any news which helps Obama, does not make it on this blog? So how unbiased are you?

Outstanding parallels.

Have you been able to get anything on Springfield pork?

Here's what I'd like to know: Were there earmarks for other hospitals, for other foundations? Or are the earmarks identified here by Ms. Sweet cherry picked for maximum effect?

I'm really getting the sense from reading Ms. Sweet's articles that she is in the tank for Hillary Clinton and should be calibrated accordingly.

Of course, we cannot have this same discourse on Senator Clinton's earmarks, because she has no ethical conversion of convenience. All the same, I am glad that we are able to see where Senator Obama's earmarks go.

Oh, before you go getting on your high Clinton horses, make sure you know what you're talking about. I have never yet heard a Clinton supporter express concern over HRC's refusal to release all of her tax returns or her earmark requests. Do you really think it's because she's clean? Who's drinking the Kool-Aid now?


Hey Leon -

I suppose it doesn't matter to you that the doubling of Michelles salary was the result of a job promotion. C'mon - don't hedge on the facts just to make your mythical points.

Julie Mack, so nice to have you back with us. It's understandable that you couldn't blog on here for a while because I assume you were too busy trying to throw Obama a life jacket to save his earmarked, Jeremiah Wright exposed campaign from drowning.

Calling someone a hypocrite is a serious charge and saying he's conveinently ethical is a serious charge.

Obama has fought to reform the system and has evolved in that fight. Sen. McCain is currently attempting to break a law he wrote and isn't being called out as a hypocrite in this artical. (I refer to his spending primary money and opting out of the financial aid system without permission.)

It seems to me your examples are more in frustration that the Sen. isn't moving on your schedule than anything else.

He's not perfect. But he's doing a lot better than a lot of the politicans out there and fighting for a better system. I think you should take that in consideration. I know he's a politican at heart, but he's one that IS actually substantivly working towards more transparancy and becoming more transparent. Just as McCain has done; despite the double dealing he's pulling now to attempt to break a law he wrote.

But I don't remember you calling that out.

ummmm.....is this all you got? H-E-L-L-0....35 years of deception and sex from the Clintons and this is all you have to compare to? You are going to have to come harder than this - my sister.

I believe it's fair and necessary to publish issues of public interest regarding Presidential Candidate's records of fact. However, I don't believe it's fair to hold candidates to different standards. I have reviewed Obama's earmarks and all seem to be for worthwhile causes and credible. I would like the chance to review HRC's, but cannot because she hasn't provided her list since she's been in Senate (nor has she provided tax returns). Why hasn't she released this data?
As a registered Independent, I have no 'party' line or other axe to grind. But, I believe that not to hold both parties to same standard is a disservice to the voters and the democratic process. Equal rights and equal responsibilies.

THE MEDIA KEEPS DENYING THAT IT HAS used different yardsticks when judging the candidacies of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. Just yesterday I saw MSNBC's Courtney Hazlett on Joe Scarborough's morning program discussing Saturday Night Live's recent skits of a slavish press fawning over Senator Obama. Hazlett reported that Michael Lorne denies SNL is endorsing Clinton as president, but expressed her own view that the skits prove otherwise. Yet Lorne rejected the criticism in a New York Times interview. "That obviously is not the case,'' he told Bill Carter. "We don't lay down for anybody." He said most of the show's writers are Obama supporters, but that the show's skits had touched on a truth that the media was denying.But until it is able to tackle the uncomfortable truths about the differing standards of race from all sides of the debate, racial resentments will continue to simmer just beneath the surface, to occasionally boil over in riots, protests or the "Bradley Effect."
http://www.crabbygolightly.com. Taking a dim view of celebrity, media and power.

As an Obama supporter, I agree with Sweet.

The guy ain't perfect and he's said his ethical stands were "a symbol." But isn't that an important symbol, considering it required leaving millions of potential lobbyist contributions on the table?

For the question asked by Cal above, yes, Obama requested money for a number of Hospitals in Illinois, so it seems that there is some serious cherry-picking going on. As well, highlighting the fact that Obama requested funds for the Center for Neighborhood Technology, where his 'honcho' works, also seems to be cherry-picking. How dare he request money for access to computers in less privileged districts! And how scandalous it is that a project run by one of the thousands of people he knows actually gets money!
I, for one, am appalled.

Wow! Obama is one of the few ethical senators we have. He has fully disclosed his tax returns, and his earmark requests. I have reviewed his earmark requests and nearly all of them are for good causes in support of science, agriculture and communities.

Lynn cannot get herself to say that this is a positive thing, and call on Hillary to do the same, so she decides to criticize Obama for being late to ethics.

I would happily take any senator who has a similar "late" conversions.

I am missing the pattern you're talking about. That he took advantage of the very loopholes that he then closed through new laws?
He talked about the flights he took, how easy it was to accept those rides on corporate jets.
He said he had taken donations from lobbyists.
If he hid those things that would make it look hypocritical but saying he's trying to change something he's done himself...I'm not sure what the problem or the point is.

The politically expedience of calling for government transparency...what? I don't care if someone passes good laws to earn political points, it will be great to have these earmarks easily searchable. People who try to track these things have to go to enormous lengths. This is a good way to hold people more accountable, including himself. They won't be secret anymore.

While I'm sure his campaign like any would "prefer the story to be about how his campaign" did something better than the other or how the other is not as good...you can't think he thought for a minute his earmarks wouldn't be carefully looked over.

Now I know for sure U. of Chicago Hospital is a great facility even if his wife works there but come on, even networks added to this story that he asked for earmarks for several other hospitals too.
The bulk of his earmark requests were not for places or projects connected to people he is connected to. I'm not sure if you're saying they never should be? Were they bad projects?

I just don't quite get the gist of this. He wasn't and isn't perfect? OK, we've got a human candidate. He tries to enact legislation that requires a higher level then he has been on? Isn't that a good thing?
I have complaints about him but these are not among them.

I keep seeing the accusation in many places, as I do in a comment here, about Michelle Obama's big raise in 2005 and making it sound nefarious. Google is your friend, don't fear it. That's when she got promoted into her VP position. Part of the increase was a one time pension payment but it is a big raise putting her salary in line with others at the same level.

I'm an Obama supporter -- good reporting, Lynn. Sincerely, speaking, good, detailed, investigative work ... That being said, it still does not sway my vote. Then again, I tend to see the world as it is.


I'm not sure which candidate will fill in those question marks, but I do know that choosing a Clinton or a McCain would make the chain look awfully depressing.

It would be interesting to see a reporter and historian team up to do an educational piece in the context of past candidates, their promises, and how they compare to the the current candidates that covers:

* the last time the average American could live comfortably and support a family on one salary
* the last time a college-educated student did not graduate from college eye-ball deep in debt
* empirical/quantitative evidence of how many democracies have been established by invasion and conquest
* Our China connection and how much muscular diplomacy has been used to gain concessions on the oppressed Tibetan people (btw, we did not seem to have any compunction about "negotiating or talking with this oppressive regime yet the Media and other candidates are terrifically excited to criticize Obama for speaking yet coming from a position of seeking concessions/movement on intractable issues
* The contamination of our food/water supply
* The overreaching and profit-minded pharmaceutical industry and the number of people that die every year because of faulty/toxic/knowingly dangerous drugs ...

But, that would be too much of a story, so instead of picking an item that means something to the average American placed in the context of history, priory candidacies, and future plans ...

we pick this, and Geraldine Ferraro, and Jeremiah Wright ... Buddhist Monks were gunned down in China today .. what do the candidates think about that, Lynn? What do their histories suggest about how they might handle China?

Bravo. Keep up the good (lowercase g) work.

Why has it taken so long for any of Obama's "truths" to emerge. I knew instinctively a very long time ago that he was not who he claimed to be and it's irked me to no end that he's managed to successfully pull the wool over the eyes of so many for so long. The media is entirely responsible for him getting as far as he has and yes, I am upset about that. I'd elaborate but it's almost 1am and I must go to bed now. But thank you for doing this article.

Good work Lynn. I have admired your objectivity on MSNBC, particularly on Hardball, where it is not a popular thing to do to disagree with Matthews. I hope he will keep having you on his show after this article.

To the Obots above, Obama has not released all his tax records or all his earmark records. Get the facts before you spout.

Helena -- wake up:


How much progress have we seen in that change ...

"instead of picking an item that means something to the average American placed in the context of history, priory candidacies, and future plans ...

we pick this, and Geraldine Ferraro, and Jeremiah Wright ... Buddhist Monks were gunned down in China today .. what do the candidates think about that, Lynn? What do their histories suggest about how they might handle China?"

To Ron Cantrell

Hillary hasn't released ANY!! That's a FACT I can SPOUT about.

What's she hiding? Her husband's overseas businesses? Did he invest in China and India while our jobs went there? Or perhaps Mexico and the rest of Central America where the rest of our jobs went.


Hey Lynn. Can you get off Obama long enough to get Clinton in there for 80 minutes and ask her what businesses her husband invested in, what countries he does business with, and where she got the 5 mill at the drop of a hat? Can you get her to release the personal schedule data so we can see for ourselves JUST WHAT HER EXPERIENCE WAS besides trying for 8 years to ram her health care plan down our throats? And did she only consult managed care CEO's or did she hopefully ask a regular health care professional or two? What companies does the federal health system let us choose from, so we can see how many of them contributed to her campaign. It wouldn't matter, except HER HEALTH CARE PLAN IS MANDATORY.

While you're at it, can you ask her how we can expect her to be fiscally responsible when she oversaw the bankruptcy of her own campaign? Last president that bankrupted everything he touched, bankrupted the country. Oh wait, that's Bush.

The facts in this article reveal that obama requested money for a hospital improvement, for voter registration, for children's health, and for an unspecified (by Ms. Sweet) defense contractor. The implication of the article--as reflected in the bitter, petty tone-- seem to be that these requests somehow reveal a sinister corrupt side to the Senator, rather than a desire to fund programs he believes in and which are central to the values espoused by both democrats in the campaign. You'll have to do a LOT better than this if you intend to cripple him enough to justify overruling his insurmountable elected delegate lead.

Blah blah. Explain Michelle's more than doubling her income in less than a year?

Seriously, take your annual income, and now double it, plus a half.

Would that ever happen in the *real* world? Maybe if you took a major promotion, *maybe*.

Stop with the smarmy "cherry picking" comments until you speak on the doubling of Michelle's income.

Obama is on his way down, and THAT despite the MSM's foisting of this charlatan on us all.

So what are you saying? The University of Chicago Hospitals, one of the best in the world, can't receive another dime from the government once Obama becomes President? How stupid is that? Why don't you compare where Obama sits with all 100 senators and what their earmarks were for? Then you can call someone a crook.

I have no complaint about the earmarks themselves. What I do not like is Obama's hypocrisy pretending not to be involved in earmarks and accusing Senator Clinton of doing what he himself is doing.

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Lynn Sweet

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

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 14, 2008 8:30 AM.

Sweet: ABC News throws spotlight on Obama's Rev. Wright. Wright sermon sampler. "God damn America." was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet: Obama blog on Huffington Post explains his relationship with Rev. Wright. Rejects "outright" Wrights divisive statements. is the next entry in this blog.

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