Obama Leads Edwards and Clinton in “Purity Primary”

John Edwards has frequently claimed to be the purest candidate with regards to taking money from lobbyists, but those of us who have followed him without giving  him a pass based upon partisanship have noticed that Edwards is the candidate most likely to make any untrue statement for personal gain. Ruth Marcus looks at the Democrats’ Purity Primary and finds that Edwards loses and Obama wins.

Marcus notes Edwards’ rhetoric but also notes that, “Edwards is no less tainted by the trial-lawyer money he scoops up by the bucketful than he would be by lobbyist contributions.” She takes a closer look at his record, and it is pretty poor:

Edwards was part of the legislative team working to pass the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, but lobbying and campaign reform were nowhere near the top of his agenda in the Senate.

During the 2004 campaign, Edwards gave a useful speech outlining his plan to limit lobbyists’ influence. But, unlike the other Democratic candidates, he refused requests to reveal the identities of his big fundraisers. This time around, after considerable prodding, Edwards agreed to release the names of fundraisers — all his fundraisers, with no specifics about how much they had collected. His campaign argues vehemently that it should be praised for this avalanche of information, not faulted. But the candidate knows who has reeled in $1,000 and who raised $100,000. Why shouldn’t voters?

Edwards certainly is clever here. He can go on the stump claiming to have provided information, but this information means little without the specifics of the amounts raised. Hillary Clinton’s record isn’t much better than Edwards’.

Clinton has shown no zeal for or even particular interest in the issue in the Senate; nor did she while in the White House. Indeed, as her handling of the health-care task force and Whitewater documents illustrate, Clinton’s instinct is for secrecy, and her default position is to disclose only the minimum legally required. She consented to reveal her major fundraisers only after repeated editorial hammering — and only after all the other leading Democratic contenders had agreed.

Of the three front runners discussed, Obama comes out sounding the best by far:

On this issue, Obama leads the pack — I’d say PAC, but he (and Edwards) don’t take their checks, either. He helped pass a far-reaching ethics and campaign finance bill in the Illinois state Senate and made the issue a priority on arriving in Washington. Much to the displeasure of his colleagues, Obama promoted an outside commission to handle Senate ethics complaints. He co-authored the lobbying reform bill awaiting President Bush‘s signature and pushed — again to the dismay of some colleagues — to include a provision requiring lawmakers to report the names of their lobbyist-bundlers.

He has co-sponsored bills to overhaul the presidential public financing system and public financing of Senate campaigns. It’s nice to hear Clinton talk about how “we’ve got to move toward public financing” — Edwards backs it, too — but I don’t see her name on those measures.

Obama readily agreed to identify his bundlers. Unlike Clinton and Edwards, he has released his income tax returns. Perhaps most important, Obama has pledged to take public financing for the general election if he is the Democratic nominee and his Republican opponent will do the same.

Any Democratic candidate wanting to “get the money out of American politics” (Clinton) or demonstrate that “the Democratic Party is the party of the people” (Edwards) ought to leap at this chance. The candidates’ silence on Obama’s public financing proposal — they’ll “consider” it — has been more telling than anything they have actually said.

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