WASHINGTON - Democratic Sen. Barack Obama has seized on a key feature of voters' economic concerns — rising fuel prices — and is casting himself as the candidate who could bring about energy independence because he is not beholden to energy companies.
Last week, Obama aired a television ad in Pennsylvania called "Nothing's changed" that outlines his energy proposals while declaring, "I don't take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won't let them block change anymore."
THE SPIN: In his ad, Obama states: "Since the gas lines of the '70's, Democrats and Republicans have talked about energy independence, but nothing's changed except now Exxon's making $40 billion a year, and we're paying $3.50 for gas. ... I don't take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won't let them block change anymore. They'll pay a penalty on windfall profits. We'll invest in alternative energy, create jobs and free ourselves from foreign oil."
The Clinton campaign last week accused Obama of "false advertising."
"Senator Obama says he doesn't take campaign contributions from oil companies but the reality is that Exxon, Shell, and others are among his donors," Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said.
THE FACTS: True enough, Obama does not take money from oil companies. No candidate does. It is illegal for corporations to give money to politicians. Corporations, however, do have political action committees that collect voluntary donations from employees and then donate them to candidates. Obama doesn't take money from PACs. He also doesn't take money from lobbyists.
But he does accept money from executives and other employees of oil companies and two of his fundraisers are oil company executives. As of Feb. 29, Obama's presidential campaign had received nearly $214,000 from oil and gas industry employees and their families, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Clinton had received nearly $307,000 from industry workers and their families and Republican Sen. John McCain, the likely GOP presidential nominee, received nearly $394,000, according to the center's totals.
Two of Obama's fundraisers are Robert Cavnar, the chairman and chief executive of Houston-based Mission Resources Corp., and George Kaiser, the president and CEO of Tulsa-based Kaiser-Francis Oil Co.
In January and February alone, Obama received nearly $18,000 from Exxon Mobil workers, according to Federal Election Commission records. Most of the donations were of $250 or less; the money came from workers ranging from executives to engineers to geologists to shift supervisors. Overall, he has raised about $34,000 from Exxon Mobil workers since the beginning of his campaign. Exxon Mobil employees have given Clinton about $16,000 since the beginning of last year.