While both President Obama and Mitt Romney surround themselves with lobbyists, there's a difference between how the two men respond to questions about their K Street ties: Obama actually does it.
The New York Times on Tuesday rolled out a front-page story on Romney's extensive ties to lobbyists, including members of his kitchen cabinet such as Charles Black, who represents Walmart and AT&T; Wayne Berman, who represents Pfizer; and Vin Weber, the managing partner for Clark & Weinstock. The article was not unlike an October front-page story by the newspaper, which identified 15 bundlers who raised and donated money for Obama's campaign and are involved in Washington lobbying.
Each candidate has been subject to charges of hypocrisy: Obama for repeatedly campaigning on his pledge to never take money from lobbyists, and Romney for running as a Washington outsider, immune to D.C. special interests. What's different is the way the two men respond to the charges. In Tuesday's Times, Romney's response can be summarized in one sentence: "A spokeswoman for Mr. Romney did not respond to requests for comment." The Romney campaign was asked about its bundlers in a story by the Associated Press on Tuesday and also declined to comment.
By contrast, Team Obama went on a full-court press in response to the October Times story:
Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, stressed in a statement that “the president has fought to limit the outsized influence that lobbyists have over the policymaking process, passing laws that promote reform and disclosure and establishing rules ensuring that industry lobbyists can’t come into the government to oversee the industry for which they used to work.”
He said that while Republican candidates were actively raising money from special-interest groups, Mr. Obama “drew a bright line” by rejecting contributions both from political action committees and from “Washington lobbyists whose job it is to influence federal policymakers.”
And that's just within the Times story. On the day the Obama story hit the Internet, LaBolt took to BarackObama.com to bang out a 500-word blog post titled "Missing the Forest for the Trees," in which he expanded on his statement to the Times and went on the offense against Romney. "Every step of the way, the president has promoted reform while candidates like Mitt Romney have thrown up their arms and attempted to thrive off the system as it is," he wrote. The next day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney took to the briefing room with similar vigor. "This president has been the most transparent in terms of disclosure, the most ethical in terms of the money that he will accept and the money he won't accept. There is no one who compares, thus far. We hope that there will be," Carney said.
We contacted the Romney campaign for a response to criticisms of Romney's lobbyist ties given the breadth of President Obama's response. We'll update if they reply.
Just as it's up to the voters to decide what level of lobbyist influence is palatable among their presidential candidate, it's up to each candidate to decide how they'll confront criticisms of lobbyist ties. It's possible Romney's betting the issue won't be a big attention-grabber in the GOP primaries. It's also possible he's just not interested in engaging the Times. Still, if this information war were a fight measured by effort, the Obama camp would have it wrapped up hands down.