Former US vice president Joe Biden entered the Democratic primary promising “from day one” to reject campaign cash from lobbyists.
“I work for you — not any industry,” he has written on Twitter.
Yet hours after his April campaign launch, Biden went to a fundraiser at the home of a lobbying executive. In the months since, he has done it again and again.
It is hard to quantify how much Biden has raised from the influence industry, but the roughly US$200,000 he accepted from employees of major lobbying firms is far more than any of his rivals have received, according to a review of campaign finance data by The Associated Press (AP).
Although it is a small fraction of the US$21.5 million he reported raising in the second quarter of this year, the money demonstrates a comfort with an industry that is the object of scorn of Democratic advocates and some of Biden’s principal rivals.
Biden’s pledge applies only to federally registered lobbyists, and most of the money tracked by the AP was from others in the influence industry.
However, thousands of dollars did come from federally registered lobbyists and Biden’s campaign said it is returning such donations.
His campaign accepted about US$6,000 in contributions from at least six federally registered lobbyists, including representatives of Google, aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin, and pharmaceutical companies, records show.
An additional US$5,750 was donated by two lobbyists who had been registered shortly before making contributions to Biden’s campaign, records show.
In at least two instances, donations came from lobbyists with criminal records who have served time in federal prison.
Former US representative Lawrence Smith, a federally registered lobbyist representing the city of Pembroke Pines, gave Biden US$1,000 after attending a fundraiser in May.
Smith left US Congress in 1993 after it was revealed he bounced 161 bad checks. He was convicted months later of tax evasion and using campaign cash to settle a gambling debt.
Maryland statehouse lobbyist Gerard Evans gave Biden US$2,600, records show. He was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison in 2000 after being found guilty of participating in an elaborate fake legislation scheme that bilked clients out of more than US$400,000 in lobbying fees, according to court records.
Excluded from Biden’s pledge are lobbyists who work at the state level and those who lobby, or supervise lobbyists, but do not meet the legal threshold requiring them to register.
Spokesman Matt Hill said in a statement that Biden will “fight the influence of corporations and special interests in our political system, which is why his campaign refuses donations from corporations, their PACs, and federal lobbyists.”
Biden’s approach contrasts sharply with US Senator Elizabeth Warren and US Senator Bernie Sanders, who have built their campaigns around a vow to reject big money in politics. Both have sworn off big-dollar fundraisers, while Biden has embraced them.
Such an embrace “doesn’t mean your positions are up for sale,” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that advocates for government transparency.
However, it “can certainly change what issues seem the most salient and whose voice gets heard,” Wonderlich said.
Biden is not alone in accepting contributions from the influence industry. US President Donald Trump vowed to “drain the swamp,” but has since reaped contributions from powerful industries with business before his administration.
Many of Biden’s Democratic rivals have made similar pledges that also include subtle caveats and omissions.
Still, he collected about US$30,000 more from employees of top lobbying firms than US Senator Kamala Harris and about US$100,000 more than South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, both of who made similar pledges, but have been in the race longer than him. Every other White House hopeful received far less.
Several recent fundraisers held for Biden highlight his ties to prominent figures in the influence business, many of whom have been active in Washington for decades.
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