The audacity of Barack Obama's populist posturing 

How will last week's Supreme Court decision liberating corporate and nonprofit political activity affect the 2010 and 2012 elections? Primarily by making it easier for President Obama to pose as a populist when he's out campaigning.

In his weekly address last Saturday, Obama condemned the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC as a "huge victory [for] the special interests and their lobbyists" that would be "devastating to the public interest." But the facts indicate that Obama's statement was either hollow political rhetoric or downright deception.

First, the apocalyptic talk is ungrounded. The decision, striking down Congress' restrictions on political communications by nonprofits and companies in the final weeks before an election, is hardly groundbreaking.

Major corporations already have political action committees, and -- as we saw with the drug industry's $150 million of advertising in support of Obama's health care reform -- industries are already playing in politics big time. The court ruling mainly frees them from having to launder their political cash through lobbyists, PACs, and politicians.

But Obama went from hyperbole to deception when he tried to put the ruling in the context of his supposed war against "special interests."

Obama said in his radio address that before he came to town regular people's voices "just weren't being heard over the powerful voices of the special interests in Washington" and that the national agenda was "skewed in favor of those with the power to tilt the tables."

But the image of Obama as a reformer is at odds with his behavior as president. He signed a massive spending bill that benefited the biggest companies, ratcheted up Wall Street bailouts, signed a tobacco regulation bill written in part by the largest tobacco company, handed ownership of Chrysler to a union that had spent $4.9 million to help elect him president, rallied behind a porked-up climate bill that gave away tens of billions of dollars to the largest energy companies, and cut a backroom deal with the top drug industry lobbyists to get them on board with a health care plan derided by his own party's former leader as "a bailout for the insurance industry."

Despite this year of sweetheart deals with the high and the mighty, Obama claimed Saturday that "we pushed back on [the] power" of special interests. So how has he constrained special-interest power?

"On my first day in office," Obama said, "we closed the revolving door between lobbying firms and the government so that no one in my administration would make decisions based on the interests of former or future employers."

This is simply false. Obama stacked his White House with experts who had just come through the revolving door, including Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, who was a lobbyist for military-industrial giant Raytheon until the moment Obama tapped him. There's also the Treasury Department's Chief of Staff Mark Patterson, who was a Goldman Sachs lobbyist until 2008 -- and Obama hasn't even granted him a waiver.

Obama's regulations of tax preparers were written by IRS [copydesk, leave as IRS] Deputy Commissioner Mark Ernst, who was CEO [copydesk, leave as CEO] of leading tax preparer H&R Block, which supports and will profit from the new rules.

The revolving door has even begun spinning the other way: Oscar Ramirez, a political hire in Obama's Labor Department, has already left and gone to K Street as a lobbyist at the Podesta Group, run by Tony Podesta, who visited the White House five times -- once a month from February through July. That's two more visits than made by his lobbyist wife, but not even half as many as his former lobbyist brother John.

So while Obama has issued executive orders on ethics and reluctantly improved transparency on White House visits, the story of Obama's first year has been one of special-interest triumphs and greater access for the politically connected -- the same as ever.

Obama's overblown reaction to the Citizens United ruling and his professed fears about corporate influence in politics are hard to take at face value, especially in light of the health care debate in which special-interest advertising favored his reforms by a five-to-one margin.

Instead, we should interpret Obama's teeth gnashing over the court ruling the same way we should take his scolding of Wall Street: as nothing more than political posturing.

The good news on campaign finance and Wall Street is that Obama isn't proposing anything substantive. The only real change is a sharp increase in populist rhetoric.

Timothy P. Carney, The Examiner's lobbying editor, can be reached at He writes an op-ed column that appears on Friday.

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