WASHINGTON – Barack Obama's campaign was directly involved in distributing donations from his political action committee to officials in early voting states where he was angling for endorsements, the Washington Post reported Friday.
The revelation conflicts with earlier statements from the campaign that it had "no connection" with the donations. The committee, Hopefund, recently distributed $180,000, mostly to officials in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Bob Bauer, private counsel to the campaign and Hopefund, told the Post that campaign workers were involved in finding and recommending potential recipients of the money over the summer. He said Steve Hildebrand, now Obama's deputy campaign manager, was consulted "multiple times" on donations.
The Obama campaign insists it did nothing illegal.
Hillary Clinton's campaign earlier this week blasted Obama over the distribution of the money.
The Post reported that although fundraising for the PAC dwindled just as Obama's presidential campaign revved up, some public officials with connections to the campaign recently received money from Obama's PAC. For instance, New Hampshire state Sen. Jacalyn Cilley lent her name to Obama's campaign only six days after receiving a PAC disbursement.
Clinton's campaign said Obama's use of the fund appears to be inconsistent with his views on campaign finance. Obama has been critical of lobbyist influence on the election process, and has said he would not take special interest group donations.
"On the campaign trail, Senator Obama is outspoken about his desire to reform the campaign finance system, so it was surprising to learn that he has been using his PAC in a manner that appears to be inconsistent with the prevailing election laws," a Clinton campaign release said.
Clinton's camp also said that Obama should disclose who is behind the distribution decisions at the PAC, and whether there is any overlap between presidential campaign and PAC personnel, or contacts between the two organizations.
Obama's campaign responded later Monday to Clinton's attack, calling it a "false attempt to misrepresent" him.
"Whatever happened to the confident frontrunner who said she wouldn't attack other Democrats just two weeks ago?" spokesman Bill Burton said in a release. "The latest personal attack from Hillary Clinton is a completely false attempt to misrepresent Barack Obama's full disclosure of his campaign finances.
"Senator Obama's commitment to disclosure is one that Hillary Clinton does not share, and until Senator Clinton is willing to make this commitment — by disclosing her White House records, the list of donors to her husbands presidential library, how much her bundlers raise, and releasing her personal tax returns to the public — she's not really in a position to point fingers at others."
Presidential race costs and contributions are monitored and regulated by the Federal Election Commission, but rules governing the use of leadership PAC money during a presidential race are murky. Lawmakers with party star power tend to use leadership PACs to raise more money than they normally would — money that they then distribute to less well-known candidates.
Cilley, the New Hampshire politician, denied that there was an agreement to exchange cash for support, according to The Post.
"There were no negotiations about financial remuneration. No quid pro quo. I endorsed him because I believe in him and his policies," the lawmaker said in an interview. "Obviously I was delighted that Senator Obama saw fit to donate to my reelection campaign. I come from one of the poorest districts in the state and I don't collect a lot of donations."
Obama spokesman Joshua Earnest also denied that there was any connection between the PAC's giving and Obama's presidential aspirations.
"Senator Obama long has been doing whatever he can to help elect fellow Democrats all across the country," Earnest said, according to the Post.