by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
At the emotional peak of his 2012 campaign, Barack Obama offered a familiar challenge to voters. “If you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible, well, change will not happen,” he told the cheering throng at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C. “Other voices will fill the void: lobbyists and special interests, the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election.”
As rhetoric, it was nothing new. Obama has always cast himself as a people-powered politician fighting to wrest control from high-dollar donors playing an inside game. And his words fit the moment. In a break with tradition, Democrats pledged to cap convention donations at $100,000, promptly disclose donors and bar corporate money. “This will be a different convention, for a different time,” Michelle Obama announced. But when fundraising got hard, the rules were quietly changed.
Days before Obama took the stage, convention planners withdrew their promise to reveal donor details. Months later, in filings with the Federal Election Commission, the reason became clear: corporations had, in fact, helped pay. Among the donations was about $10 million in the form of a loan settled after the election by Duke Energy, one of the nation’s largest electric utilities and a big spender on federal lobbying. Jim Rogers, Duke Energy’s CEO and a co-chair of the convention host committee, personally kicked in an additional $100,000. The President had railed against $10 million checks from a podium partly paid for with a $10 million check.
Officials at Duke Energy and the White House say the donations weren’t about winning favor with Obama. “There is not a direct link to access,” said Duke spokesman David Scanzoni, who added that the utility sponsored the convention only to help promote the city of Charlotte. But White House records show that about a month after Rogers’ first checks cleared in 2011, he was among a select group of fundraisers invited to a state dinner at the White House in honor of Germany’s Angela Merkel. Around the same time, there were other visits by Rogers, including White House holiday parties and a meeting (along with his lobbyists) to talk about coal-pollution regulations–invites that the White House insists would have happened without the Charlotte donations.
An advocate of cronyism spends time with consummate crony Jim Rogers? It’s enough to challenge one’s fundamental view of the world.