Politics & Government

Obama orders DNC to stop taking money from lobbyists

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama, trying to quickly unify his fractured party, Thursday made a series of symbolic but significant changes aimed at showing him as an agent of change and in control of the Democratic machinery.

Less than 36 hours after claiming his party's presidential nomination, the Illinois senator said the Democratic National Committee will stop accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists and political action committees, just as Obama's campaign has done.

He also said that party chairman Howard Dean would remain in the job, and sent top adviser Paul Tewes to help run DNC operations.

Reformers were pleased with Obama's move to bar lobbyist and PAC money.

"It's a bold and huge step," said Mary Boyle, Common Cause spokeswoman. "He's showing he means business."

At the Republican National Committee, spokesman Alex Conant said "no" when asked if the GOP would adopt Obama's guidelines.

"We have our policy in place," he said.

Republicans argued that Obama's gesture was little more than symbolism. Traditionally, PAC and lobbyist money constitutes a small percentage of how much political parties raise.

The swift show of command and harmony came as New York Sen. Hillary Clinton prepared to endorse Obama on Saturday. Clinton officially remained in the race, and some of her backers were pushing her for the number two spot, though spokesman Howard Wolfson said she was not seeking the job.

Obama turned his public attention to mending the schisms that emerged during the primary season. Traditionally, such healing comes behind the scenes during campaign summers, in meetings between top party bigwigs and their staffs. Usually, everyone clasps hands at the party's convention, though sometimes they never do and the party suffers.

But 2008 is a year with an unpopular war, a sluggish economy and a reeling Republican president, and Democrats see a huge chance to recapture the White House.

"This is a story that goes beyond just what Obama is saying about lobbyists and money. He's saying he will be able to coordinate strategy with the party," said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, a Washington watchdog group.

DNC Chairman Dean declared "the end of an extraordinary primary season" and said he looks forward to Clinton's "ongoing leadership."

He then bashed presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

"On everything from the war in Iraq, to privatizing Social Security, to making the disastrous Bush tax cuts permanent, John McCain has made it clear he is more interesting in continuing the policies of the past rather than facing America's future," Dean said.

Significantly, for all of Obama's posturing against corporate and lobbyist cash, his campaign overflows with donations from supporters. Both he and McCain may reject public financing for the fall, which no candidate has done since 1976, when the system was first used after the Watergate scandals.

In his next monthly report, Obama is likely to become the most prolific presidential fundraiser ever, surpassing the $269.6 million George W. Bush raised in 2004.

Collectively, presidential candidates in 2008 have already raised $910 million, assuring this will mark the first election that candidates alone raised and spent more than $1 billion.

Boyle of Common Cause expressed disappointment in McCain, the money-in-politics reform champion earlier in the decade when he led the effort to ban soft money, or contributions to parties that can be raised and spent in unlimited amounts.

"We wish he would be walking the walk of a reformer more often," she said.

But Malbin pointed out that McCain is sticking to the system he generally wanted, one with contribution limits.

"He's not asking for six-figure contributions," he said.

A donor can give $28,500 each year to the national committees and a maximum of $65,000 every two years to all PACs and parties. A donor can give a maximum of $108,200 to all sources, including individual candidates.

RNC spokesman Conant sought to tie Obama's announcement to his relationship to Tony Rezko, a former Obama fundraiser. "If he's serious about being transparent," Conant said, "he should start by answering questions about his buddy Tony Rezko."

Rezko was convicted Wednesday on charges involving a kickback scheme aimed at influencing Illinois state business. Nothing incriminating about Obama emerged at his trial.

Republicans have been hammering Obama hard over Rezko, starting a new Web site Thursday featuring highlights of what it calls Obama's 20-year relationship with him.