by John McCormick
DES MOINES – Sen. Barack Obama this morning defended the use of money from his political action committee to back political candidates who happen to have endorsed his presidential bid.
"Everything we have done is in exact accordance of the law," Obama said at a news conference. "And unless they can show that it hasn't been, I'd suggest they focus on trying to get their supporters to the caucus in Iowa."
The Illinois Democrat was responding to criticism this morning from the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," Clinton media guru Howard Wolfson called Obama's Hopefund a "slush fund" that should be closed now that he is a candidate for president.
Clinton's campaign said she made dormant her political action committee, HillPac, when she entered the presidential race in January.
Obama said Hopefund is no longer raising money, but that because of the rapid nature of his decision to run for president he was left with money in the fund to share with other Democrats.
"I have not been planning to run for president for however number of years some of the other candidates have been planning for. So, by the time we announced that I was running, there was still money left over, which we used to contribute to candidates all across the country to help build a Democratic majority. That was the original purpose of it. That is the purpose of all these leadership funds. It's the same purpose that Sen. Clinton's leadership fund was set up….We just simply didn't have the ability to get all that money out. And I would point out, we made contributions to many people who are endorsing Sen. Clinton, instead of me. I think what people need to focus on is that all these accusations that are starting to come out, seem to correspond to shifts in political fortune."
After initially denying any coordination between Hopefund and Obama's presidential bid, the Washington Post reported last week that Obama's campaign encouraged the PAC to give money to candidates in early voting states.
On Face the Nation this morning, Wolfson said: "“There's a lot that voters don't know about Barack Obama. And one thing they don't know – we found out this week – is that he has been using and operating a so-called leadership PAC, in apparent contravention of campaign finance laws, taking in money from lobbyists despite the fact he said he doesn't take money from lobbyists, taking in money from lobbyists and giving money out to candidates in New Hampshire and Iowa to support his presidential campaign.''
The Clinton campaign also said Obama has given 68 percent of its contributions to those in states scheduled to hold nominating contests on Feb. 5 or earlier.
"On the campaign trail, Obama tells voters he rejects money from federal lobbyists and corporate political action committees," Clinton's campaign said in a statement. "But the Hopefund money he is distributing in early states includes over $120,000 from federal PACs and over $30,000 from registered federal lobbyist including Lockheed Martin, Wal-Mart and Citibank."
Wolfson, appearing on the CBS mornng show with David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, challenged Obama to "shut down'' the so-called slush fund. Axelrod said it is effectively shut down, because the money has been spent.
Obama's campaign also this morning announced the endorsement of Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie.