After Obama’s call to limit lobbying, White House … meets with lobbyists
UPDATE: A blogger who says he took part in two Obama administration conference calls Thursday disputes the notion these were meetings with lobbyists.
“I joined two of these calls. The invite came to me through a progressive organization. They were not secret. They were not organized by the Treasury Dept. There were no ‘lobbyists’ asking questions on the calls unless you consider progressive organizations that are C4s to be ‘lobbyists’,” Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest wrote in an email to FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher.
Johnson said the original report of these being lobbyist meetings “is clearly intended to undermine the Obama administration’s credibility with progressives.”
ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW
Political observers are sensing a hint of hypocrisy in the Obama administration’s decision to hold conference calls with lobbyists a day after the president announced he wants “strict limits” on lobbyist donations to politicians.
According to a report from The Hill‘s Bob Cusack, officials at the Treasury Department invited lobbyists to “a series of conference calls with senior Obama administration officials to discuss key aspects of the State of the Union address.”
And the Electronic Frontier Foundation hinted Thursday that the president may have been less than forthcoming about his administration’s attitude towards lobbying, pointing out that administration lawyers have argued for the need for secrecy in meetings with lobbyists.
Among the topics up for discussion at Thursday’s conference calls were job creation, government reform and transparency — the very issue over which Obama took on the lobbyists in his State of the Union address Wednesday night.
“It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or Congress,” Obama said in his speech. “And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended the lobbyist meetings Thursday, telling The Hill that “it is standard for our outreach team to organize a conference call … after a major speech or announcement.”
In a Washington Examiner column, Timothy P. Carney argues that the president’s tough talk on lobbyists highlights a “complex” relationship between the administration and K Street. For example, Obama took some $14.8 million from the securities and investments industry in the 2008 campaign, more than any candidate before him. Of that money, nearly $1 million alone came from employees of Goldman Sachs.
Carney also attacked Obama’s claim in the the speech that “we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs,” noting that at least 16 former lobbyists work in the Obama administration.
For instance, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was a lobbyist for the National Education Association in March of 2008. He is exempted from Obama’s ethics rules because his Cabinet job is not relevant to his recent lobbying work
William J. Lynn, a lobbyist for leading defense contractor Raytheon received a waiver from Obama in order to serve as deputy secretary of defense.
Treasury Department Chief of Staff Mark Patterson, on the other hand, has not received a waiver although he was a Goldman Sachs lobbyist as late as April 2008, lobbying on issue areas such as monetary policy, tax policy, and financial policy.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out on Thursday that President Obama’s administration has argued in court in favor of keeping meetings between lobbyists and administration officials a secret.
The EFF has been fighting in court for the release of the names of lobbyists who represented major telecom firms in an effort to acquire legal immunity over the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. In defending against the lawsuit, lawyers for the Obama administration argued that “there is no public interest in the compelled disclosure of the representatives’ identities” and that lobbyists had a “significant privacy interest in being able to communicate confidentially with the government.”
“While it’s great to see Obama reverse his position in the State of the Union and acknowledge the strong public interest in disclosure of lobbying records, the administration must do more than give speeches in order to fulfill its commitment to transparency,” the EFF’s Kurt Opsahl said in a statement.
For some observers, Thursday’s conference calls with lobbyists were a sign that little is about to change in the nexus of Washington politics and lobbying.
“These briefings were available to lobbyists, and not the general public. They were secret, and not open to the media, and not to be reported publicly. The president attacks lobbyists while his Treasury secretary gives first-class tickets to insider special interests, while the rest of the American people fly standby,” opined Brent Budowsky at The Hill.