By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Back when he was just a candidate for president, and before he knew how difficult running the country actually was, Barack Obama sought to distance himself from George W. Bush and John McCain by promising that America would not see any lobbyists working in his White House.
As talked about on the campaign trail by Obama, by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, and other leading Democrats, "lobbyist" was used as a code word for corruptor of innocent politicians, a person who perverts the democratic ideal and all around bad guy (or gal, as the case may be). And, having firmly established a connection between lobbyists, graft, and sundry political corruption, they were happy to beat the GOP about the head and neck on the subject for days and weeks at a time.
It's not surprising that people expected the Obama administration to be a lobbyist free zone. It is certainly the image the administration desired to project, at least going in. But, whether or not Obama meant to keep that particular promise or if he was just engaged in political posturing, the fact is his administration—like every other—is replete with individuals who, at one time or another, earned a living representing the interests and opinions of paying clients and organizations to elected officials, Washington regulators, and the bureaucracy. But having set the standard, it is more than fair to hold the president to it.
So it is a little bit trouble to learn that Neil MacBride, a former lobbyist who currently serves as a U.S. associate deputy attorney general, has been nominated by the president to be the next U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, given its proximity to Washington, D.C., one of the most important prosecutorial positions in the U.S. government.
As the Washington Post noted last Thursday, "The position has grown increasingly visible in recent years, as the Alexandria office has handled some of the nation's highest-profile terrorism and national security cases." And here's the kicker: According to law enforcement officials cited by the Post, the Alexandria, Va.-based U.S. attorney's office that MacBride has been nominated to head is competing with the U.S. attorney's office in New York City "for the opportunity to prosecute Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and his accused co-conspirators."
MacBride's credentials, at first glance, are as thin as his political connections are strong. In addition to his current job at the Department of Justice, he was, at one time, vice president of the Business Software Alliance, a computer industry trade association, where he served as a registered lobbyist working the Senate on issues such as copyright enforcement and cybersecurity. He is also a former longtime aide to Joe Biden, currently the vice president of the United States.
Now the White House says MacBride did not need a presidential waiver to secure his new appointment because his lobbying work ended in 2007, outside the two-year window created by the Obama executive order that barred lobbyists from working in his administration. Nevertheless, the idea that a former industry hired gun could be appointed to one of the most important prosecutorial posts in the entire U.S. government is unsettling, or at least should be to those who think lobbyists are the scourge of the democratic process. It's just one more example of how, in Obama's Washington, the rubber doesn't always meet the road.