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No ‘Union Made’ at the DNC

Donations from union and liberal lobbying organizations are just as unwelcome at the Democratic National Committee as contributions from any corporate political action committee or typical fat-cat K Streeter.

That was the conclusion last week when the DNC, under the direction of Howard Dean, decided to fall in line with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) when it comes to donations from lobbyists and PACs.

The Illinois Senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has long had a ban on such cash.

While a few union leaders griped about getting lumped into the mix, most said it was no big deal, especially the ban on registered lobbyists donating their personal money to the DNC.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m not Tony Podesta,” said Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO’s director of government affairs, referring to the Democratic lobbyist and high-dollar donor who runs the Podesta Group. “They’re lucky if they’re going to get $25 from me.

Samuel said that as a general rule, he’s sympathetic to banning lobbyists.

“The influence of lobbyists from corporate and business interests is too high, and for the most part, lobbyists represent very small and selfish interests,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe lobbyists for consumer groups and labor unions should be “swept up” in the anti-lobbyist fervor. “But that’s the way life is,” he said. “I’m not crying over the fact.”

Several union leaders said that they would give up no influence in this year’s election because they will mobilize their membership to get out to the polls to vote for Obama and other Democratic candidates.

The Teamsters’ Leslie Miller said her 1.4 million-member organization’s “strength is our ability to get Teamsters, their friends and family to the polls.” The group strongly supports Obama, she added.

Some now-banned lobbyists and PACs had already given money to the DNC this year — about $2.1 million out of a total of more than $75 million, said Doug Weber of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Those low contribution levels from lobbyists and PACs to the DNC indicate that most K Streeters don’t view the committee as a top priority.

“It doesn’t get you anything,” one Democratic lobbyist said of donating to the DNC. “What do I care about Howard Dean?”

Larry O’Brien, founder of the OBC Group and a longtime top giver to Democratic committees and candidates, said that because of soft-money restrictions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, he has cut off much of his DNC giving.

“I think as a significant donor myself to the party over a sustained period of time, I find it a little perplexing that the party would end up making a declaration like that,” O’Brien said. “Simply by virtue of the fact that you happen to be a registered lobbyist in Washington, your standing as a Democrat is somehow diminished.”

Karen Finney, a spokeswoman for the DNC, said that while the ban is not retroactive, the DNC did return $100,000 in donations from PACs and federal lobbyists because the money was set to be deposited on Thursday, the day the DNC announced the new ban. Finney declined to say which PACs or lobbyists got their money back last week.

The ban does not apply to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “There’s no way in hell they’re going to follow suit,” said one Democratic lobbyist. “Where do you think they get their money?”

The ban also does not apply to the federally funded Democratic National Convention Committee or the Denver host committee that is raising private donations for the convention.

“The Host Committee has its own governance structure and neither the DNC nor the DNCC participate in any way in fundraising for the governance of the Host Committee,” Finney said in an e-mail.

T.R. Goldman contributed to this report.

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