By Sam Youngman - 10/28/09 11:51 PM EDT
Dozens of lobbyists were invited to a Democratic National Committee (DNC) fundraiser Tuesday night with a Cabinet member even though President Barack Obama has sworn off taking money from lobbyists.
A DNC official said it was a mistake that lobbyists were invited to a small gathering with Lisa Jackson, Obama’s administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The official said a review of attendees indicates that no lobbyists attended the event.
The fundraiser’s price tag was $5,000 to act as a host and $500 to attend as a guest, according to a source.
Loy told The Hill in an e-mail that to his knowledge, “[W]e did not extend an invitation to this event to any individuals or firms that are or have registered as federal lobbyists.
“If an invitation was sent to any such individual or firm it was done in error,” Loy said, adding that he did not know how the invitations ended up in the e-mail inboxes of Washington lobbyists.
The DNC and the White House have repeatedly insisted that the committee will not and does not accept money from federal lobbyists or political action committees.
The DNC declined to provide The Hill with a list of attendees at Tuesday night’s fundraiser, but all contributors to the committee should be disclosed in quarterly reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Laws and DNC rules do not prohibit Cabinet officials from attending fundraisers.
The DNC this year has lagged slightly behind the Republican National Committee (RNC) in fundraising, but Democrats did outraise their Republican counterparts in the third quarter for the first time since 2004.
DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse said that “hosts of events often send invites for events to people who they would have no way of knowing whether or not they are lobbyists.”
“But no one can contribute to the DNC or attend a DNC fund raising event if they are a federally registered lobbyist — so even if a lobbyist receives an invitation inadvertently — they will be denied attendance at an event and will not be allowed to contribute once they are flagged in the vetting process,” Woodhouse said in an e-mail. “No one slips through the cracks. Period.”
An EPA spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
One Republican lobbyist who was invited to attend the event said what the DNC is calling a mistake is no surprise given the difficulty of raising money in Washington while excluding lobbyists.
“I honestly never believed that the DNC or any other party organizations would stick to Obama’s pledge — not because they didn’t want to, but because it was just so unrealistic, especially in this town,” the source said. “It was a dumb promise to make, and now all of those arms of the party are trying to find ways around it. So my short answer would be no, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Throughout the 2008 campaign and into this year, officials close to Obama have acknowledged that their effort to distance themselves from lobbyists is not perfect.
In defending the ethical standards of Obama’s White House, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the DNC “does not accept contributions from registered federal lobbyists or political action committees and hasn’t done so since President Obama became the party’s nominee last year.”
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said that it is entirely possible the invitation to lobbyists was a mistake, but it would be a problem if a pattern emerged.
“If that happened over and over again, it would be hard to say, ‘We screwed up,’ ” Sloan said.
The White House took fire Wednesday on the issues of ethics and transparency after The Washington Times reported that top donors and bundlers had been given special access to the White House and senior advisers.
Gibbs was asked repeatedly about the report, which detailed how some top donors were given access to senior administration officials and White House facilities, including a birthday visit to the Oval Office.
Gibbs insisted that the president has gone to great lengths to “institute the very toughest ethics and transparency rules of any administration in history,” including becoming the first White House to release its visitor logs to the public. Those logs are scheduled to become available in December.