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The Champion of Cronyism: David Axelrod

Jim Merriner 7 April 2009 4 Comments

I don’t understand why the news that David Axelrod sold his interest in his consulting firms for $3 million raised such eyebrows as it did. The man is among the best in his business and is free to charge whatever the market will bear.

The president has stuffed his administration with lobbyists such as Axelrod, in violation of his campaign promises and his Executive Order No. 2 of Jan. 21, but surely by now the hypocrisy of Barack Obama is no longer news.

No, the media’s mere fascination with the rich and famous must explain its fondling of the Axelrodian $3-million disclosure. As usual, though, the pundits are missing the real story.

The real story is Axelrod’s client list and how it contradicts the self-image he has nurtured for 25 years now. Ever since he quit the Tribune to run the sainted Sen. Paul Simon’s campaign in 1984, Axelrod has sold himself as the gunslinger with principles. Unlike most guys in the political consulting biz, he works solely for true-blue liberal Democrats. Carry even a whiff of ideological impurity, he’ll spurn you as a client.

Look up the profiles of Axelrod that have run in the New York Times or just about anywhere else, they say the same thing—a tough guy, a hard puncher, but a true believer in all progressive ideals. This allegedly describes a man who has lobbied for Mayor Daley, Comcast, Commonwealth Edison, Exelon and such. (Before you email me, yes, I know that technically Axelrod was not a lobbyist, or at least he never registered as one except for the time that the state of New York made him do so.)

Consider just one client of Axelrod’s firm, ASK Public Strategies, which he spun off from his AKP&D Message and Media company in 2002. Last November, Illinois voters rejected by a 2-1 margin a referendum proposal for a new constitutional convention. The Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution was a client of ASK Public Strategies.

This “alliance” raised $1.6 million—that’s right, $1.6 million just to sway a referendum—and spent nearly every nickel of it on consultants. The consultants frightened voters into believing that altering a single word of the current Illinois Constitution would cause grass to grow in the streets of a thousand cities and turn our drinking water to sludge.

Capital and labor, Republicans and Democrats—a medley of special interests—backed the alliance with big bucks. The aforementioned Exelon gave $100,000. Organized labor felt so threatened by the potential upset of the status quo that the Illinois Federation of Teachers alone contributed $325,000.

Even some “reformers” supported the alliance—Dawn Clark Netsch, for one, chipped in $500. Netsch was a major framer of the existing 1970 constitution, probably has some pride of authorship and warned of the horrible hazards to befall us if we tried to write a new one.

Give Netsch the benefit of the doubt, but most of the anti-referendum crowd cynically wanted to preserve the current system of corrupt state government. To further the aims of this system, ASK was paid $1.2 million. The other major consultants were Hill & Knowlton, which made $239,000, and former state Rep. Nancy Kaszak, $134,000.

Remember, all this was going on last year, while Obama was running as the champion of hope and change with his senior adviser Axelrod at his side, fighting the forces of privilege and cronyism and politics as usual.

Jim Merriner is a regular contributor to the Chicago Daily Observer


  • John Powers said:


    Just did a quick search. The connection between The Alliance to Protect the Constitution and David Axelrod has been mentioned in the media 6 times in the last 9 months. Once in a Chicago Tribune Blog, and 5 times in the Chicago Daily Observer

    If the media adamantly refuses to report the news, it is no wonder we are left with the politicians we have.


  • Alex Jeffrey said:

    So you are accusing Obama of corruption and dishonesty before the country? Now let’s take one quick look at his predecessor…its like Rod Blagojevich taking over for Adolf Hitler. Which one is worse?

  • Jim Merriner said:

    Dear Mr. Jeffrey,

    You are comparing Obama with Blagojevich by way of defending Obama?

    Wow. And I thought I was cynical.

  • Dan Kelley said:

    Empty and vague rhetoric is what Axelrod specializes in. His candidate clients always promise “change” without emphasizing the specifics. Who can be opposed to “change” which is, of course, inevitable?

    During the past campaign, it was pointed out that Obama was repeating slogans that had been recycled from campaigns of previous candidates who had been handled by Axelrod (John Edwards and Deval Patrick). In some instances, the same platitudes had also been peddled by Canadian politicians who had hired Axelrod as a consultant.

    Throughout the campaign, Obama was on both sides of every issue and consciously obtuse. Axelrod prefers to be vague because if his candidates had been specific they’d be sidelined like Richard Phelan. The former County Board President has never been heard from again since Axelrod helmed his failed gubernatorial campaign.

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