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Do Obama's big donors break his no-lobbyist pledge?

President Barack Obama speaks about managing student debt during an event at the University of Colorado Denver Downtown Campus in Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. Denver is the final stop on a three-day trip to the West Coast for fundraising and speeches promoting his American Jobs Act.
President Barack Obama speaks about managing student debt during an event at the University of Colorado Denver Downtown Campus in Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. Denver is the final stop on a three-day trip to the West Coast for fundraising and speeches promoting his American Jobs Act. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Obama's re-election campaign is pushing back against a New York Times report that suggests Mr. Obama may not be meeting his own standards when it comes to keeping corporate lobbyists out of his campaign.

At least 15 of Mr. Obama's "bundlers" -- supporters who collect donations from multiple people on behalf of a campaign in order to generate big donations without violating the law -- work in the lobbying industry though they are not technically registered as federal lobbyists, the Times reports. These key supporters, with ties to heavy-hitting industries like telecommunications and pharmaceuticals, have raised more than $5 million so far for Mr. Obama's re-election.

Their fundraising seems to contradict the spirit of Mr. Obama's pledge to not take money from lobbyists. The president's campaign, however, says the New York Times story "misses the forest for the trees."

From the day he announced his 2008 presidential bid, Mr. Obama hasn't accepted a dime from registered lobbyists or political action committees, Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said in a statement. Furthermore, LaBolt pointed out, Mr. Obama has led the way in disclosing the names of major volunteer fundraisers.

This all stands in contrast, he added, to the Republican presidential campaigns, which readily accept donations from lobbyists.

"Reducing the influence of special interests over the policymaking process won't happen overnight--there are many institutional forces fighting tooth and nail to make sure that it does not," LaBolt said. "But 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."

While the 15 bundlers cited by the Times may not meet the technical criteria to be registered lobbyists, the influence they wield in Washington on behalf of their business interests is clear. Sally Susman, for instance, is an executive who leads the lobbying shop for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, though she's not technically a lobbyist herself. She's raised more than $500,000 for Mr. Obama's re-election and helped organize a $35,800-a-ticket dinner the president attended.

The rewards for several of Mr. Obama's bundlers have been handsome, a June report showed. Eighty percent of the bundlers who raised $500,000 or more for Mr. Obama in the 2008 election ended up in "key administration posts," in the words of the White House, according to a study from the Center for Public Integrity.

Still, Mr. Obama's efforts to keep corporate interests out of his campaign extend far beyond any efforts his opponents are making.

In fact, the Washington Post reported this week that "K Street is playing an increasingly central role in the 2012 presidential race, as hundreds of lobbyists representing some of the world's largest corporations and trade groups pour money into Republican coffers."

More than 100 registered lobbyists have contributed to Mitt Romney, giving nearly $200,000 in direct donations to the former Massachusetts governor, the Post reported. Meanwhile, lobbyist bundlers have collected $1 million for his campaign.

Lobbyist donors could be of "pivotal importance" in making the 2012 election cycle one of the most expensive in history, according to the Post.

The Obama campaign pointed out that Romney doesn't voluntarily disclose any of the major fundraisers that have contributed to his campaign.

Furthermore, it was Mr. Obama who co-sponsored legislation in the Senate requiring presidential candidates to identify lobbyists who act as campaign bundlers.

Still, Republicans aren't making the same promises that Mr. Obama has made. In an email to Mr. Obama's supporters, celebrating the fact that his re-election campaign has surpassed one million donors, the group Obama for America wrote, "We've always relied on each other, not Washington lobbyists or corporate interests, to build our campaign."

The Republican party is jumping on the notion that Mr. Obama's bundlers break that promise.

"Today we learned we were all duped by another false campaign pledge from President Obama," Republican National Committee spokesman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement.