Does Obama have a lobbyist problem too?

Obama has been hitting McCain hard about the lobbyists working for him, but one lobbyist with a potential conflict is prominent in Obama's Puerto Rico campaign.

Topics: 2008 Elections, Barack Obama, War Room, John McCain, R-Ariz.,

Over the past couple of weeks, Barack Obama has hammered John McCain on the issue of the current and former lobbyists that the Arizona senator has had working in some of the most senior positions in his campaign.

“It appears that John McCain is very much a creature of Washington,” Obama said in Oregon on May 18. “We can’t have special interests dictating what’s happening here. I wouldn’t take PAC money and I wouldn’t take money from federal lobbyists.”

But apparently, Obama is willing to let them take important roles in parts of his bid for the presidency. The co-director of Obama’s campaign in Puerto Rico is also a lobbyist for Puerto Rico in Washington, according to an article in Thursday’s Washington Post. Ethics experts said Francisco Pavia’s role in Obama’s organization appears to violate the campaign’s ethics guidelines, which bar federal lobbyists from staff positions.

“They need to provide an explanation,” Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told the Post.

An Obama spokesman said there is no conflict because Pavia is an “active volunteer,” not a paid aide. (Two of the McCain advisors who’ve been controversial because of their work, campaign manager Rick Davis and chief advisor Charlie Black, are unpaid by the McCain campaign.) Pavia has been a lobbyist for Puerto Rico since 2001 and his firm has earned over $3 million for his efforts during that period, according to the Post. The Post called Obama’s guidelines on federal lobbyists in his campaign “somewhat ambiguous” and reported that some of his volunteer advisors are lobbyists.

Then there’s Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod. Newsweek reported this week that Axelrod’s consulting firm, ASK Public Strategies, created AstroTurf campaigns for Illinois utility Commonwealth Edison and other clients.

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According to the magazine, ASK worked with the utility to come up with a group called Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity (CORE), which ran ads warning of a “California-style energy crisis” if rate increases for Commonwealth Edison were not approved by the state Legislature. CORE did not disclose that Commonwealth Edison had funded the ads. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Axelrod said there’s a major difference between what he does and the type of lobbying that forced several staffers off of McCain’s campaign.

“I never lobbied anybody,” Axelrod said. “What I do is make ads and try to involve people in the process, people outside the halls of legislatures or city councils to get involved in public issues. What lobbyists do is go behind closed doors and try to influence lawmakers sometimes with implied promises of support for their campaign and so on; it is fundamentally different.”

Justin Jouvenal is an editorial fellow at Salon and a graduate student in journalism at New York University.

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