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President Barack Obama was back on the stump recently, giving a fiery speech to a crowd of young people at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Obama said they should vote for Democrats this fall, or Republicans would gain control of Congress and stall his agenda.
"If the other side does win, they will spend the next two years fighting for the very same policies that led to this recession in the first place, the same policies that left the middle class behind for more than a decade, the same policies that we fought so hard for to change in 2008," Obama said.
"Just look at the agenda that the leaders of the other party unveiled last week. They call this 'Pledge to America.' That's what they called it. And in case you're wondering how serious they are about changing Washington, this pledge was actually written with the help of a former lobbyist for AIG and a former lobbyist for Exxon-Mobil."
Obama has often decried the influence of lobbyists on the federal government. And while he does have policies in place to keep former lobbyists out of his administration, his administration has made some signficant exceptions. We've found enough exceptions to his campaign promise that we've rated his promise on tougher rules against a revolving door for lobbyists as Promise Broken. Still, many ethics experts say Obama is doing a better job at closing the revolving door than previous presidents.
We wanted to fact-check Obama's statement that lobbyists had helped write "A Pledge to America." The document, created by the House Republican leadership, is a mix of broad principles and specific proposals, such as "permanently stop all job-killing tax hikes" and "repeal the job-killing health care law." It is largely silent on how to fix the significant imbalances in the federal budget that will reach a critical point in the coming decades.
When Obama said the pledge was "written with the help of a former lobbyist for AIG and a former lobbyist for Exxon Mobil," we thought he meant lobbyists, plural. But he was actually talking about one person who lobbied for two corporations, the White House confirmed. That person is Brian Wild, a staff member for the Republican leadership.
How does Obama know Wild helped author the document? That news came from a report from the the liberal website The Huffington Post. Wild is listed as the document owner on an electronic draft of the report obtained The Huffington Post. Wild is also a former lobbyist who worked for The Nickles Group. Public filings show that Wild was listed as a lobbyist for the insurance giant AIG from 2006 to 2008 and for Exxon Mobil Corp. from 2006 to 2009. He also lobbied for other companies, including Comcast, the Southern Co., the National Mining Association, Monsanto, FedEx, General Motors and others.
A Republican spokesman didn't dispute that the digital signature on the document was Wild's or that he worked on the document. But Republican members themselves wrote the document -- collaborating on different sections, and Wild simply coordinated the project, said Brendan Buck, the communications director for the "Pledge to America" project.
"The Pledge to America was written by Republican members of the House based on the priorities they heard from the American people," Buck said. "Suggesting anything else is an ugly act of political desperation."
Because of Obama's wording, rating this item is a bit tricky. He said the pledge "was actually written with the help of a former lobbyist for AIG and a former lobbyist for Exxon Mobil." First, we think the reasonable interpretation here is that two former lobbyists worked on the pledge, but that's not the case. We've only been able to find one former lobbyist who worked for AIG and Exxon Mobil.
Next, Obama said the the pledge was written "with the help of" a former lobbyist. In this context, what does "help" mean? Wild certainly "helped" in the sense that he was a staff member who worked on the project. But we don't know how much he did or didn't contribute to the actual text. We asked to interview Wild on this point, but we were turned down. Buck said that members themselves wrote the document, but we can't independently verify that. We should add here that we're not entirely naive; we know the unwritten rule among staff members of both parties is that you always downplay your role to make the boss look good. So we don't know how much Wild did or didn't help write the pledge.
And the point here is that Obama's doesn't know either. His implication is that former lobbyists had some sort of nefarious influence on the document that would benefit powerful special interests. Actually, the document is a compilation of fairly general talking points and principles that Republican members have been talking about for months.
So we take that together and find that one former lobbyist -- not two -- helped write with the document. And it's unknown whether that help was anything more than cutting and pasting. So we rate Obama's statement Half True.
The White House, Remarks by the President at DNC Rally in Madison, Wisconsin, Sept. 28, 2010
The Huffington Post, GOP 'Pledge To America' Director Lobbied For AIG, Exxon, Pfizer, Chamber, Sept. 23, 2010
The Republican Party, A Pledge to America
The Center for Responsive Politics, Brian Wild profile
E-mail interview with Kate Bedingfield of the White House
E-mail interview with Brendan Buck of the House Republican leadership's "A Pledge to America Project"
Interview with Craig Holman of Public Citizen
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