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Away from the bright lights and high-minded rhetoric of the campaign trail, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has quietly worked with corporate lobbyists to help pass breaks worth $12 million.
In his speeches, Obama has lambasted lobbyists and moneyed interests who "have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play."
"It's an entire culture in Washington -- some of it legal, some of it not," the Democratic hopeful told a New York crowd in June, rallying support for his ethics reform agenda.
But last year, at the request of a hired representative for an Australian-owned chemical corporation Nufarm, Obama introduced nine separate bills exempting the company from import fees on a range of chemical ingredients it uses in the manufacture of pesticides and herbicides. Nufarm's U.S. subsidiary is based in Illinois.
Nufarm wasn't the only beneficiary of Obama's efforts to reduce customs fees and duties. In early May of 2006, two Washington lobbyists registered to work on behalf of Astellas Pharma, a Japanese-owned drug company which also has offices in Illinois.
The lobbyists' task? "Introduce legislation to temporarily suspend customs duties for the importation of a pharmaceutical ingredient," they wrote on their lobbying forms. Less than three weeks later, the men had earned their $20,000 fee, thanks to Obama. On May 26, he introduced S. 3155, a bill specifically exempting Astellas' key ingredient from tariff payments. The bill cost the federal government more than $1 million in lost revenue, according to government estimates.
Together, Obama's obscure measures -- known as tariff suspensions -- steered more than $12 million away from federal coffers, according to government estimates.
A spokesman for the senator defended Obama's efforts on behalf of the two firms.
"Sen. Obama helped his constituents obtain foreign products necessary for their business at an affordable rate," said Ben LaBolt, noting that Obama made sure all the products "met strong environmental standards" before pushing to make it cheaper to import them.
While legal, Obama's bills on behalf of Nufarm and other companies are part of the special treatment machine Washington rolls out for special interests, say good-government watchdogs.
Originally posted by LLoyd45
Although Barack Obama claims to be above the usual run of Washington politics, he has been working quietly behind the scenes to secure millions of dollars in breaks for corporate lobbyist. Why does this not surprise me?
And once again, we are faced with a politics that makes all of this possible. In the last six years, our leaders have thrown open the doors of Congress and the White House to an army of Washington lobbyists who have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play – a game played on a field that's no longer level, but rigged to always favor their own narrow agendas.
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama (on government reform)
Lobbyists generally are paid by corporations, unions and other interest groups to shape public policy by making regular contact with government officials. They must register with both houses of Congress, and make public disclosures identifying their clients and the amounts they are paid.
Some of the most influential players, lawyers and consultants among them, skirt disclosure requirements by merely advising clients and associates who do actual lobbying, and avoiding regular contact with policymakers. Obama’s ban does not cover such individuals.
For example, partners from the Atlanta-based law firm Alston & Bird donated $33,000 to Obama in the first 90 days of 2007.
Alston & Bird has a large lobbying division in Washington. It billed its clients nearly $3.9 million in 2006, ranking 35th among Washington lobbyists. Alston boasts on its website that it offers clients “unique experience with how policy is made” and knows “the people who make it: government and agency officials; members of Congress and their staff.”