Self-serving deals by Obama aides

Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death will overshadow and push out of the headlines a very important story of which Americans should take note. A stationary nimbus of self-dealing hangs over one of President Obama’s key staffers, exposed this week by the Associated Press.

According to the AP, White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod’s former Chicago public relations firm is one of two that have profited mightily from the Obama administration’s health care reform effort. I know, I know, Axelrod has sold his interest in the firm he created. He’s gone to great lengths to distance himself from it, but his son works there and as a founding partner there are ties that no matter what he does, can ever be erased.

The Associated Press reports, "Coalitions of interest groups running at least $24 million in pro-overhaul ads hired GMMB, which worked for Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign and whose partners include a top Obama campaign strategist (Jim Margolis.) They also hired AKPD Message and Media, which was founded by David Axelrod, a top adviser to Mr. Obama’s campaign and now to the president."

Both firms have also secured contracts from the Democratic National Committee since President Obama took office — another set of no-no’s.

My first thought is, there are so many public relations firms out there competing for lucrative government contracts, there’s no way any Obama-linked firm should be chosen for the work. In fact, they should know better than to compete for it. Such behavior stinks of the kind of self-dealing and semi-corruption the country came to expect from the Bush administration (Halliburton, Blackwater, etc.) It is hardly the type of neo-liberalism voters expected from Obama who promised change. It also lays to waste his promise to ban lobbyists from his surroundings. Quite the contrary, he is raising and training them, planting the seeds, watering them and watching them grow.

This story reminds me of another published early on in the Obama campaign, when the New York Times caught him claiming credit for passing a bill that never passed the U.S. Senate, and watering it down for campaign contributions from "corporate officials" but not "lobbyists."

It started out as a bill that was supposed to force nuclear power companies to report even the smallest of leaks, so nearby residents could keep better track of the amount of radiation released close to their homes. Instead, corporate executives of Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power provider, poured $227,000 into Obama’s Senate and presidential campaigns and Senator Obama watered down the bill into regulatory oblivion. Again, it never passed, even though he told campaign audiences it had:

"A close look at the path his legislation took tells a very different story. While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it, Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulators. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulators, whom it charged with addressing the issue of unreported leaks."

Later on, the Times reports, "Two top Exelon officials, Frank M. Clark, executive vice president, and John W. Rogers Jr., a director, are among his largest fund-raisers."

Mr. Change is not the dirt-free Mr. Clean he portrays himself to be. Not even close.

The media have been remarkably kind to this man, even though the more we learn, the closer he appears to be a typical Chicago machine politician, not the feathered-wing, haloed creature he claims to be.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last of this type of story. Let’s hope investigative journalists keep digging, as I believe there’s a lot yet to be unearthed.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)