WASHINGTON – Lobbyists were banned from a fundraiser Thursday night where President Obama raised $3 million for Democratic candidates, but that won't stop them from donating cash to the same political account.
They just weren't welcome at the event where Obama repeated his broad plan to repair the economy and bring back badly needed jobs.
"It requires taking on the status quo in Washington," Obama said, painting himself as an outsider who could change politics. "Let's face it: The status quo in Washington favors inertia over action and tinkering over real reform."
Obama prohibited lobbyists from donating to the Democratic National Committee, his re-election campaign-in-waiting and any fundraisers where he's the star attraction. The party's campaign arms for House and Senate candidates, however, still take donations from the special interests.
That standard has left the president open to criticism. It was his fastidious campaign against lobbyists that helped win him the populist vote last year, set up an us-versus-Washington tone to his campaign, and pave the way for him to raise millions from small-dollar donors.
"This is the height of hypocrisy and just one more example of President Obama's rhetoric not squaring with reality," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said. "Obama said lobbyists and special interests will not fund the Democratic Party, but now the Democrats are cashing their checks as fast as they come in, 364 days a year."
Obama's top spokesman defended the fundraiser.
"We stand by what we said in the campaign. And we haven't changed that policy now that we're here," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. "So I think the president has been consistent, has taken steps — both in the Senate and as a candidate and as a president — to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington."
Asked how the ban limits lobbyists' influence, Gibbs replied, "We're not taking their money."
Maybe not at the event itself, but lobbyists can send checks to the committee anytime they want.
Reporters asked Gibbs why Obama, as titular head of the Democratic Party, was letting lobbyists donate to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Gibbs replied: "Call Bob Menendez," the New Jersey senator and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.