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Lawyers Rank Third on Obama Donor List Even With Lobbying Ties

Lawyers Rank Third on Obama Donor List
President Barack Obama speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Thurs., Feb. 2, 2012. Photographer: Susan Walsh/AP

President Barack Obama’s top sources of campaign funds include employees at law firms that made $20 million last year trying to influence Washington.

Obama, who has raised $128 million toward his re-election, doesn’t accept contributions from registered lobbyists, a policy that doesn’t apply to others who work in their firms.

The restriction hasn’t affected his fundraising, as 6 of the president’s 20 biggest sources of money were law firms that lobby for companies such as Google Inc., AT&T Inc., and MasterCard Inc., and he received more money from lawyers and others at law firms than any other presidential candidate last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks political giving.

“Basically, they’re not taking money from the messenger boys but they are taking money from the people sending the message,” said Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Retirees were Obama’s biggest bloc of 2011 givers, donating more than $10 million, while employees from an assortment of businesses ranging from retailing to hospitality were his second largest, contributing more than $6.7 million.

The president raised $5.7 million from those working for law and lobby firms, more than half of the $10.3 million in donations those employees made to the presidential candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Citing Ethics Rules

Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, cited the president’s record on ethics issues, such as preventing lobbyists who enter his administration from handling issues they used to be involved with, and being unable to lobby the government for two years after they return to the private sector.

“While Republican candidates are actively raising money from federal lobbyists and special interest PACs, without disclosing their bundlers, the president drew a bright line by rejecting contributions from Washington lobbyists whose job it is to influence federal policy makers,” LaBolt said. Bundlers are people who tap their personal networks to encourage donations to the campaign.

Obama’s second largest source of campaign donations came from employees working for DLA Piper and their families, who have given a total of $151,375. DLA Piper last year was paid $8.2 million by such clients as Comcast Corp. and Raytheon Co.

Lobbying Law Firms

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, whose employees contributed $100,324 and ranks as Obama’s eighth-biggest source of donations, counts EBay Inc. and the U.S. Steel Corp. among its clients, which paid the firm a total of $1.1 million last year. Mayer Brown LLP, whose employees contributed $67,407, was paid $4 million to lobby by such clients as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Banning lobbyist donations “is consistent with the campaign they ran on in 2008 and their stand on outside influence and they are undoubtedly losing some donations that would have come their way,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the center.

Obama is the only 2012 presidential candidate to refuse donations from registered lobbyists and ban them from raising money for his re-election. Registered lobbyists have raised $2.2 million for Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s campaign through Dec. 31, Federal Election Commission records show.

While candidates must disclose lobbyists who are raising money, Obama is going further and identifying everyone who has raised at least $50,000 for his re-election.

Walling Off Lobbyists

“He’s doing more than anyone else,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a Washington-based group that supports more stringent lobbying laws. “Not only is he disclosing his bundling activities, he has this wall between lobbyists and his administration and no one else is going to do that.”

Even so, “it would be nice to see a cleaner break between lobbyists and money and lawmakers,” Holman said. “One lobbying firm can easily expect to get others in the firm to make campaign contributions on its behalf.”

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, raised $57 million. A co-founder of the private equity firm Bain Capital LLC, he has received $6 million of the $9.9 million that employees in the securities and investment industry and their families have donated to presidential candidates.

That sum includes $2 million of the $2.8 million from employees at private equity and hedge funds, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Eight of Romney’s 10 biggest sources of donations are workers at financial firms and their families.

Romney has called for repealing the financial regulations enacted in 2010 in response to the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression.

“To the extent anyone is supporting Mitt Romney over President Obama it is because the state of the economy and the president’s failure to create jobs,” said Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman.

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