The Obama Lobbyist Ban and Tom Daschle: the Silliness Continues

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Let's be clear: Tom Daschle is not a lobbyist. Which is good, because the Obama administration does not employ lobbyists ( mostly).

A lobbyist, you see, uses his special insider knowledge, connections, and status to turn a buck and help special interests. Oh, and a lobbyist also has to file a paper certifying that (s)he is a lobbyist. This is a huge difference from what Tom Daschle has been doing the last four years, right? 

From today's New York Times

Mr. Daschle agreed to become the founding chairman of "a world-class executive advisory board" of "industry and regulatory experts" for a new investment firm run by Mr. Hindery, according to a news release announcing its inception and seeking investors. The Daschle-led board, the release said, would help provide a "collective depth of industry knowledge and expertise that will allow us to pursue unique and high-value opportunities."

In addition to lending the prestige of his name, Mr. Daschle traveled to help raise money from investors for Mr. Hindery's new venture, said Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for Mr. Daschle. And in exchange, over the next four years the firm compensated Mr. Daschle with over $2 million, and Mr. Hindery lent Mr. Daschle the use of a chauffeured limousine in Washington.


There is no evidence that Mr. Daschle pulled strings for Mr. Hindery. Indeed, Mr. Hindery's firm appears to have had few interests before the government. But interviews and a review of public documents show that in his work for a Washington law firm, Mr. Daschle did take on an array of clients seeking influence with the government, including concerns involved in Indian gambling, ethanol, health care, telecommunications and federal contracting.


Affiliated with the firm Alston & Bird, Mr. Daschle has operated in the gap between the popular understanding and legal definition of a lobbyist. There is no evidence that he directly sought to influence his former colleagues or other government officials in ways that would have required him to register as a lobbyist or could have run afoul of the restrictions on former lobbyists entering the Obama administration. But the rules still left plenty of room for him to advise businesses seeking to influence the government or to profit otherwise from the fame and insights he acquired in public life.

So to sum up: Lobbyists use their insider knowledge and connections to make money from special interests and because they do so directly (call their former colleagues, for example), they must register as lobbyists. Tom Daschle used his insider status and knowledge and connections to make money from special interests but because he did not directly lobby (rather than calling a former colleague, he would tell the special interest who to call), he did not have to register as a lobbyist. And so he can work in the Obama administration.

This isn't about Tom Daschle—he was a very good senator, and will undoubtedly be a good and conscientious secretary of Health and Human Services, if confirmed.

But it does illustrate, again, the problems with sweeping rhetoric and lobbyist ban that President Obama has employed. By painting all lobbyists as evil influence peddlers and loudly proclaiming that they would have no place in his administration, he opened himself up to ridicule whenever he did (inevitably) bring lobbyists and quasi-lobbyists into his administration.

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