CNN: Obama 'Was Key in' Illinois Ethics Law

Today on CNN's American Morning, network correspondent Alina Cho conducted yet another "truth squad" check of a claim made by a presidential candidate.  In this instance, it's the claim Barack Obama makes that he was a leader in ethics reform when he served in the Illinois state senate.  Anchor Kiran Chetry led off the segment:

CHETRY: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." Time again to check in with the "Truth Squad." Alina Cho looking at some statements that Barack Obama is making about taking on lobbyists. "Lobbyist," the dirty word in presidential politics.

ALINA CHO, CNN GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: Big, bad dirty word, Kiran. Good morning. Good morning, everybody. It's something that Barack Obama talks about often on the campaign trail. No surprise how he's taken on lobbyists and he says as president, he'll do it again to reform health care and take on Wall Street. Here he is on Tuesday in Reno, Nevada.


OBAMA: I will take power away from the corporate lobbyists who think they can stand in the way of these reforms. I've done it in Illinois. I've done it in Washington. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Take power away from lobbyists in both Illinois and Washington? Is that true? Does his record back it up? Well, we looked at it. Last year, Obama did support something called The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. That bill prohibits gifts and limits travel provided by lobbyists. It also increases the waiting periods before lawmakers can join lobbying firms. President Bush, by the way, signed that bill into law last September. Public Citizen, a non-profit consumer advocacy group gave Obama high marks for supporting it. They say he has pushed hard for other ethics reform legislation, as well.

But what about back in Illinois. Well, as a state senator, Obama was key in producing something called The Illinois Gift Ban. He actually helped draft the law back in 1988 and it also puts significant limits on gifts by lobbyists, and bans personal use of the campaign contributions.

So the question again, when Obama says he took on lobbyists in both Illinois and Washington, was he right? Pretty clear cut on this one for a change. The "Truth Squad" says -- and that means yes. This one is true. Obama has supported and even helped shape legislation that has cracked down on lobbyists.

As we get closer to the election, Kiran, this is not something we see very often. A clear cut true.

CHETRY: Right.

CHO: But we are happy to say that this one is true.

No doubt Cho was happy to pronounce Obama's claim true.  But let's fact check the fact checker.

The law to which Cho refers was passed in 1998, not 1988 as she stated.  The One was still in the trenches organizing the community in 1988.  And there's a big question as to whether Obama assumed a major role in the legislation's passage.

In August, National Review Online's David Freddoso wrote of Obama's involvement with the Illinois ethics legislation:

When the 1998 law passed the state senate on May 22, 1998, it set off a mad dash for incumbent legislators to fill their coffers as quickly as possible, so as to maximize the amount in their accounts on the grandfather date. According to the Chicago Tribune, State Rep. Monique Davis (D.) went so far as to lend her campaign $33,000 five days before the deadline. The campaign of state Sen. George Shadid (D.) borrowed $50,000.

Obama cannot be blamed for any of this because he did not write this 1998 ethics law. In fact, he had very little to do with it until the day it passed. He was not the one to propose the ethics bill in the Illinois senate. He was not even a cosponsor until the day it passed. Five months after the ethics bill was introduced, and more than one month after it reached the senate, Obama was invited by Emil Jones to become its chief Democratic cosponsor. As David Mendell writes in Obama: From Promise to Power, former Rep. Abner Mikva convinced Jones to let Obama handle the legislation. Sen. Dick Klemm (D.) was removed as chief cosponsor and replaced by Obama on May 22, 1998 — the very day the bill passed.

Other than the fact Klemm was a Republican rather than a Democrat, that account appears accurate.  The bill status record shows the legislation's chief co-sponsor was changed to Obama on May 22, more than a month after it arrived in the state senate on April 18.

This isn't the first time CNN's fact checking didn't check out.  "Fact checks" are popular with the mainstream media in this year's election.  Increasingly, though, they're being used as just another hammer in the toolbox to advance Obama and damage McCain.

2008 Presidential American Morning