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Lobbyists to help nominate Obama for reelection in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Despite President Obama’s harsh rhetoric toward K Street, lobbyists will be on the convention floor as delegates in Charlotte Wednesday when he is nominated for a second term. 

That lobbyists will help nominate the president for reelection is a delicious irony, considering Obama’s moves to keep his distance from the influence industry. Neither his campaign nor the Democratic convention accepts political contributions from lobbyists; lobbyists can’t raise funds for the president; and the Obama administration has banned them from serving on federal advisory committees.

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But lobbyists remain a vital cog in the Democratic Party machine, and a number of them are serving as delegates at this week’s convention. Some lobbyists worked their way up to the senior levels of Democratic state parties and were selected for a trip to Charlotte.

One lobbyist-turned-delegate said the president’s restrictions on K Street have been “inconsistent.” 

“I disagree with the president on this,” Harold Ickes said. “He doesn't bring in the lobbyists but he brings in the corporate titans and talks to them. ... It's totally inconsistent, but if the president wants to do this, he can. Fine with me.” 

Ickes is serving as a delegate for District of Columbia in Charlotte, and was first a delegate at the 1988 Democratic convention.

A long-time Democratic strategist, Ickes was an adviser to then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign and helped handle delegate counting. He is chairman of The Ickes & Enright Group, a lobby firm that has made $730,000 in lobbying fees so far this year, according to lobbying disclosure records.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, said there were no rules in place to prevent lobbyists from serving as delegates at the convention. 

“There may be some irony that lobbyists are voting to nominate Obama, but the real focus of the president's restrictions are on lobbyist money and influence-peddling,” Holman said. “Banning lobbyists from serving as delegates would totally be unconstitutional. That seems like it would take it too far.” 

While Ickes is not on board with Obama’s anti-lobbyist rhetoric, he said he would vote for him as the nominee and again for president in November.

“I think he has done a very good job so far and ... deserves nomination and reelection,” Ickes said.

Ickes isn’t the only registered lobbyist serving as a delegate in Charlotte.

“I definitely understand the Obama administration making sure that lobbyists don't have undue influence, but I have been a Democrat for all my life,” said Jaime Harrison, a principal with the Podesta Group. “It shouldn't preclude you.” 

Harrison is a delegate for South Carolina and was an alternate delegate for the state at the 2008 convention. The lobbyist said the convention has little to do with his K Street work. 

“The vast majority of people in the hall are grassroots Democrats,” Harrison said. “This is less about work and more about moving the ideals of the Democratic Party forward.” 

A colleague of Harrison’s at the Podesta Group, Oscar Ramirez, is also a convention delegate, representing Maryland.

“What I do with Congress is completely different than what I do at the state party level,” Ramirez said.

The lobbyist said he wanted to bring diversity to his state party. 

“That was an important part for me. Making sure that the party represented the diverse nature of the state,” he said. 

Other delegates in Charlotte have had experience as lobbyists, though they might not be registered at this time.

Jeff Berman, a member of Bryan Cave’s public policy and governmental affairs group, is representing D.C. as a delegate. Obama's 2008 presidential campaign’s national delegate director was registered to lobby as late as last year, according to records.

Former Rep. Norman Mineta (D-Calif.), who served in the Cabinets of both former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, is representing Maryland as a delegate. Mineta was registered to lobby last year for Hill & Knowlton Strategies, according to records.

Ickes said the number of lobbyists serving as delegates is insignificant when compared with nearly 6,000 people that are filling that role in Charlotte.

“It's inconsequential,” Ickes said. “And you compare that to a federal lobbyist sitting on a federal advisory committee with five or 10 members, they can have a real impact.” 

Further, there’s an upside to the president’s stand against K Street.

“As far as banning contributions from lobbyists, it has saved us a whole lot of money,” Ickes said with a laugh.