31 January 2009

Obama accepting lobbyists in his administration

President Obama promised during his campaign that lobbyists "won't find a job in my White House." So far, though, at least a dozen former lobbyists have found top jobs in his administration...

Obama aides did not challenge the the list..., but they stressed that former lobbyists comprise a fraction of the more than 8,000 employees who will be hired…

[A] recent presidential executive order forbids executive branch employees from working in an agency, or on a program, for which they have lobbied in the last two years.

Yet in the past few days, a number of exceptions have been granted, with the administration conceding at least two waivers and that a handful of other appointees will recuse themselves from dealing with matters on which they lobbied within the two-year window.

“It would be more honest if they admitted they made a mistake and came up with a narrower rule,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Obviously, they can’t live with the rule, which is why they keep waving the magic wand and making exceptions. They’re saying one thing and doing another. It’s why the public is skeptical about politicians.”
I’ll concede two points up front – first, that not all campaign promises can necessarily be kept. Lots of things are said in a year-long campaign, and some ideas become impractical or impossible later. But statements of principle are another matter. If important principles are compromised, then the administration in power is not the one the majority voted for. And I’ll concede that former lobbyists may be among the most knowledgeable and experienced persons in their field of the expertise, and may have the best qualifications for the government job.

That said, these appointments (or nominations) still leave a bad taste. Yes, these are a “fraction” of the 8,000 that will be hired, but note that these are top positions – the Attorney General, the Secretary of Agriculture, for cryin’ out loud. The Obama team may be strict about enforcing “no lobbying” to the minor functionaries, but when it comes to the top spots they “give a pass” to the big boys. It’s the same favoritism that allows the Treasury nominee to have avoided paying taxes. One form of justice for the powerful, something else for the rest of us.

There’s a lot to be proud of in these first weeks of the Obama administration, but hints of a return to “politics as usual” or the absence of moral hazard are worrisome. We’ll keep watching…


  1. I get that there is a certain stigma that lobbyists are evil and that Obama fed into this with his unrealistic campaign promises, but generally these lobbyists are the people with the political expertise to do the job. Also, certain lobbyists are worse than others (oil lobbyists versus human rights lobbyists, etc.)

  2. My point also. There are lobbyists for human and animal rights, as well as for the preservation of nature.

  3. Stan, I know you are a fan of Captain Obama, but while you see some good things happening, I see some pretty difficult things to accept, but hey, that's an argument for a different time, and probably on a different blog! What I can say is that I totally agree with you on this issue. We all know what lobbyists are. We all know what Captain Obama promised. Now we all know that Captain Obama's word isn't as golden plated as we were led to believe.

    Oh...and when is Captain Obama going to pay my mortgage?

  4. I am not an apologist for the Obama administration, but his tirades against lobbyists made good campaign fodder - but are not sustainable. First, as other comments have pointed out, Lobbyists do good work too and these are the guys who know how Washington works. To exclude their talent from the administration would be self-defeating. Also remember that the function of the Lobbyist is necessary and is protected by the Constitution - separate clause in 1st amendment ("to petition the government for a redress of grievances")


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