Hope(fund) and Change: Breaking the Obama Code

Barack Obama launched his Hopefund PAC on January 25, 2005, twenty days after he was sworn into the U.S. Senate. Early Hopefund donors included Warren and Susan Buffett, David Geffen, Valerie Jarrett, Peter Herbst, Bain Capital, Daniel Yankelovich, Susie and Mark Buell, Steven Spielberg, Alfonso Fanjul, Laurence Tribe, Jon Gruber, Eric Holder, and Julius Genachowski.

Hopefund went on to raise $4.4 million, one of the largest PACs ever established by a member of Congress. Lynn Sweet mentioned Hopefund in her October 2005 Chicago Sun Times piece, "Opening Soon: Obama's School." Hopefund's progressive activist training seminars would soon expand into a partnership with EMILY's List, as described in this EMILY's List January 13, 2006 weekly newsletter.

After the Obama Exploratory Committee formally announced itself in January 2007, The Washington Post quickly scolded Hillary for asking her backers to raise $1 million each, then rejecting the notion that she was somehow obligated to list her future bundlers. Its February 8 editorial, "The $1 Million Bundler," also served to let us know that Senator Clinton was opting out of federal funds for both the primary and general elections.

The next day, February 9, the Post revealed the Obama camp's recent request for FEC guidance on the legal definition of "accepting donations" vs. "receiving contributions." Senator Obama must have realized early on that taking hold of the crooked wheel so carefully crafted by the Clintons would become mandatory, not optional. February 19 brought Obama's formal announcement, and with it, a pledge that fundraising for Hopefund would now cease.

The half-dozen mainstream media Obama pieces in 2007 tended to either (a) highlight VoteHope, a non-connected independent expenditure PAC -- the 2008 version of a 527 -- created by Steven Phillips, the ex-superintendent of the San Francisco Board of Education and son-in-law of millionaire progressive activists Herb and Marion Sandler; or (b) question whether lobbyist money was in fact creeping into the campaign coffers despite Obama's strict campaign promise.

With the exceptions of Michael Kranish's July 21, 2007 Boston Globe piece, "PAC tries new tactic to boost Obama run: sees way around spending limits,"and John Solomon's "Obama PAC is active in key election states," and a Washington Post piece six months later, nobody prodded below the surface. Solomon reported ongoing Hopefund activity according to his own analysis of FEC files. "Obama has handed out more than $180,000 from the nearly dormant PAC," Solomon wrote on November 26, 2007, "to local Democratic groups and candidates in the key early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina." The piece quotes Joshua Earnest, Obama spokesman, denying "... any connection between the PAC's giving and Obama's presidential aspirations." Also, Kent Cooper, the FEC's retired chief of public disclosure, says that "the commission, if it chose, could declare that Obama's presidential campaign and PAC were affiliated. ... it is a brazen effort ... I can't believe the Obama people can keep a straight face and claim these aren't part of the presidential race."

Post-Iowa, the MSM no longer resembled slumbering giants; they now seemed downright sedated. One of the stories they missed involves tens of millions of dollars and a few activist campaign finance lawyers, some left over from the Dean campaign, who concentrate on areas of regulatory issues, elections/campaign finance, and developing non-compliance strategies.

As late as October 2, 2008, the American Spectator ran a chilling Prowler column, "Obama's Fishy $200 Million," in which an FEC auditor, declining to be identified for fear of retribution, describes his attempts to open a formal investigation in the last weeks of the campaign.

On March 25, 2007, Jason Horowitz, a New York Observer reporter, happened to be at Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago the day the Los Angeles Times ran the front page story asserting that Barack Obama had been a practicing Muslim in Indonesia. The Obama camp clearly relied on reporters "drinking the Obama Juice," as the campaign staff liked to call it, and were holding their collective breath that the Muslim story, along with Jeremiah Wright, would somehow go unnoticed. Horowitz describes panic on Thursday, and then,

By late in the afternoon, the campaign had provided a rebuttal, several former childhood acquaintances of Obama, and had reported that his school records had been eaten by insects. By Friday morning the press office seems more relaxed. The story had received little pick-up. The conversation among the Washington imports turned to their first St. Patrick's Day in Chicago.

Fortunately for the American people, insects didn't eat everything.

Patti Villacorta writes "The New Islamoprogressives" column for Z Street.