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Karl Rove accuses Obama campaign of 'influence peddling'

November 04, 2011|By Peter Nicholas, Washington Bureau
(Mark Wilson / Getty Images )

Karl Rove, architect of George W. Bush's presidential victories, is steeped in the business of political fundraising. He co-founded one of the major "super-PACs," American Crossroads, which will try to cut into President Obama's fundraising advantage in the 2012 election.

For Rove, the Obama campaign is both a target and a rival – and he doesn't like one of the methods it is using to raise campaign money.

Making full use of the power of incumbency, the Obama campaign has set up a "speaker series" in which people pay $5,000 to hear closed-door speeches delivered by administration officials, White House alumni -- even celebrities who are partial to Obama.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at one such event last month at a private home in Brentwood, Calif. Duncan's aides said he attended on his own time.

Obama campaign literature lists other Cabinet officers who may take part, including Steven Chu (Energy), Ray LaHood (Transportation) and Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services).

Obama is "taking it [fundraising] to a different, dangerous level," Rove said in a recent interview.

"What they're doing is establishing a process by which you can buy influence."

The program, he said, is an invitation to people who may have business with Cabinet agencies "to come and hear these guys and hobnob with them."

"If the Energy secretary is at the speaker series and you have an application before the Energy Department, don't you think that's a little bit of an incentive to show up?" he said.

Rove described the series as a "very interesting approach for an administration that has been so rhetorically tough on influence peddling."

When Rove was at the Bush White House, of course, politics wasn't exactly banned. In January, a federal watchdog agency came out with a report indicating that employees in Bush's Office of Political Affairs violated the Hatch Act by giving political briefings in the course of the work day.

The report by the Office of Special Counsel showed that White House aides gave presentations that discussed "the electoral success of the Republican Party and possible strategies for achieving it."

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt fired back at Rove.

“I assume Karl Rove was holding his tongue firmly in his cheek – it is completely disingenuous for him to make this attack when he appeared at countless fundraisers on behalf of President Bush’s reelection in 2004 as did officials throughout the Bush White House and administration," LaBolt said. "He knows that our events have been entirely appropriate and consistent with past practices.”

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