Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign called on rival Barack Obama to shut down a political action committee he controls that has contributed money to elected officials in early presidential contest states.
Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson posed the demand to chief Obama strategist David Axelrod during a television interview Sunday and the campaign followed up with a press release shortly after. Wolfson accused Obama of using the PAC in "apparent contravention of campaign finance laws."
The aggressiveness of the Clinton camp is a testament to the increasingly tight race between the two in Iowa, where polls show Obama in a virtual dead heat with Clinton or with a slight lead. Polls show John Edwards also in the top mix in Iowa.
"I think that folks from some of the other campaigns are reading the polls and starting to get stressed and issuing a whole range of outlandish accusations," Obama said in a press conference Sunday in Des Moines, Iowa. "Everything that we've done is in exact accordance with the law."
At issue is Obama's Hopefund political committee, which distributed donations to congressional candidates as well as officials and local Democratic Party groups in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Some of those elected officials who received contributions endorsed Obama's campaign. Others did not, with some endorsing Clinton.
Obama has made an issue during the campaign of his refusal to accept money from lobbyists or from PACs for his presidential campaign. The Hopefund, however, received more than $120,000 from PACs in 2005-2006. Hopefund raised only $2,000 from PACs early this year before it stopped fundraising.
According to a Hopefund finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission two weeks ago, the committee gave nearly $160,000 between July 1 and Nov. 5 to local and congressional officials in states that are holding presidential contests next month. During that period, Hopefund gave about $210,000 to federal candidates in other states across the country.
"There's a lot that voters don't know about Barack Obama," Wolfson said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "And one thing they don't know, we found out this week, which is that he has been using and operating a so-called leadership PAC, an apparent contravention of campaign finance laws, taking in money from lobbyists despite the fact that he said he doesn't take money from lobbyists."
Obama officials have said Hopefund was merely trying to assist Democratic candidates and pointed out that of the $476,000 that Hopefund contributed in 2007, about 57 percent went to states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina.
But officials acknowledged to The Washington Post last week that campaign officials were consulted to determine who some of the recipients should be. They said the contributions did not violate FEC regulations.
"I'm not sure that there's any money left in that leadership PAC, and it's gone to candidates all over the country because we're trying to elect Democrats," Axelrod said on CBS. "And that's what we should be doing."
Hopefund has about $99,000 left, according to its report.
Clinton also had her own so-called leadership PAC, called HillPAC, that paid for some of her current campaign staff before she officially launched her candidacy. In 2006, it also contributed about $60,000 to federal and state politicians in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The PAC is inactive now, however.
The Obama campaign also pointed out that Clinton delivered a check for $100,000 last week from her family's tax-exempt charitable foundation as a donation to a proposed public library in South Carolina.