No Lobbyist in the Obama Administration ... Except When There Is One

Run on the ban, live by the ban.

By + More

By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

So, President Obama (I do enjoy typing that) is going to ban lobbyists from his administration...except when he isn't?

This from today's New York Times:

In what ethics-in-government advocates described as a particularly far-reaching move, Mr. Obama barred officials of his administration from lobbying their former colleagues "for as long as I am president." He barred former lobbyists from working for agencies they had lobbied within the past two years and required them to recuse themselves from issues they had handled during that time.

OK. Stand by your guns; fulfill a campaign pledge. I'm with you.

The Republican National Committee criticized that requirement and said the new administration was already violating it. Mr. Obama's nominee for deputy secretary of defense, William Lynn, has been a lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon, and his nominee for deputy secretary of health and human services, William V. Corr, lobbied for stricter tobacco regulations as an official with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, conceded the two nominees did not adhere to the new rules. But he said that Mr. Lynn had the support of Republicans and Democrats, and would receive a waiver under the policy, and that Mr. Corr did not need a waiver because he had agreed to recuse himself from tobacco issues.

As the philosopher Scooby Doo might say: Awhroo? (That's cartoon dog for "Huh?")

"When you set very tough rules, you need to have a mechanism for the occasional exception," this official said, adding, "We wanted to be really tough, but at the same time we didn't want to hamstring the new administration or turn the town upside down."

I'm deeply ambivalent about this whole thicket of issues, as I have at times contradictory feelings about it.

I thought Obama's sweeping condemnation of lobbyists was better campaign rhetoric than policy. The reality is that some lobbyists are as nefarious as advertised and some are not. Some want to turn their public service into big bucks and some turn around and help what we liberals would call good causes. And oh yeah: Many have experience that could be helpful for a new administration trying to enact its agenda.

I think that some substantial number of people who go through the so-called "revolving door" are a problem, and so I have some sympathy for tougher restrictions on that kind of back and forth.

But if you're going to campaign on sweeping condemnations about the evil of lobbyists and then, with great fanfare, ban them from your administration, you need to live by your own rules; or at least you shouldn't start making exceptions for them on Day 1.

Else the message is: It is important to prevent other administrations from doing business with lobbyists; but we are of such mor al character that the rules need not apply to us. That's a slippery slope and leads to problems (and specifically could lead to the ex-lobbyists not getting confirmed, as Spencer Ackerman notes).

  • Read more by Robert Schlesinger.
  • Read more from the Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
  • Read more about the Obama administration.