The variable definition of “special interest”

Michael Dobbs, the Washington Post "Fact Checker", recently received significant flak from readers in response to his blog post asking whether John Edwards and Barack Obama are guilty of hypocrisy in their fundraising practices.

Readers disliked being labeled "special interests" and took exception to the "practice of ‘guilt by association.’"

From Dobbs’ blog post:

"A trial lawyer, ‘DeAnna’, objected to being lumped together with other ‘special interests.’ She said she had given money to John Edwards, not because she wants him to promote her business interests, but simply because she likes his political positions. Is her money tainted just because her company "employs lobbyists"?

‘I have given to John Edwards because his campaign and his focus on impoverished families and health care speak to me. I have donated because I want John Edwards to be our next president. I am not influenced by my employer or any lobbyists in my donations.’

‘Kevin’ condemned the practice of ‘guilt by association.’ If you identify yourself as the employee of a pharmaceutical company in your financial disclosure firm, journalists somehow assume that you are supporting pharmaceutical interests, when in fact you might just happen to like Obama or Edwards or whomever.

‘By the way, Michael Dobbs works for the Washington Post which is party owned by Berkshire Hathaway which is run by Warren Buffett who is a maximum donor ($2300) to Hillary Clinton (those are all real facts, feel free to look them up.) So under Dobbs’ own ‘guilt by association’ rules, that makes him a shill for Hillary. And his ‘fact’ check article is no more than a Hillary Clinton campaign ad by his own definition. See how that works, Mr Dobbs?’"

Dobbs continued:

"‘Obama and Edwards are being pretty disingenuous,’ wrote ‘PeterDC.’

‘It is hard to say you don’t take money from a lobbyist and then work hard for union endorsements–who hire the lobbyists you say you won’t take money from. Edwards earned money from a hedge fund and they participate in lobbying efforts to protect their outrageous tax benefits. Obama takes money from State lobbyists and has all the time he was in the State legislature. It is really semantics.’

The Pinocchio Test

This is a really difficult one. Both sides make good points. Obama and Edwards have promised not to take money from ‘federal lobbyists’ as a first step toward cleaning up campaign finance–and nobody has demonstrated that they have knowingly broken their promise. Their chief rival for the Democrat nomination, Hillary Clinton, has been embroiled in her own fund-raising scandals, with big bundlers like Norman Hsu, so she hardly has much standing to criticize her rivals.

On the other hand, the promises of Obama and Edwards are legalistically worded and filled with loopholes. In their different ways, they have both taken money from ‘special interests.’ The truest comment about campaign finance probably came from Obama when he acknowledged that he was swimming in ‘the same muddy water‘ as the other candidates.

For stretching the truth on campaign finance reform, we award Obama, Edwards, AND Clinton one Pinocchio apiece."

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.