Honestly, I have held off writing about this topic because I do not want to come off as being too critical of President Obama. If you look at some of my previous posts about him, you will understand that even though I did not vote for him and do not agree with some of his policies, I have wanted to give him a chance. I have made that case more than once.
One of the main promises that Obama made during his campaign has to do with lobbyists. Here is what is listed on the Obama/Biden campaign website under ethics.
Barack Obama will centralize ethics and lobbying information for voters:
Obama and Biden will create a centralized Internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings.
Require independent monitoring of lobbying laws and ethics rules:
Obama and Biden will fight for an independent watchdog agency to oversee the investigation of congressional ethics violations.
Close the revolving door on former and future employers:
No political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.
No one can argue that Barack Obama made these points a central part of his campaign message and in my opinion, rightfully so. I have been disturbed for quite some time concerning the amount of influence lobbyists seem to wield in Washington, D. C. No doubt about it, they have more influence over what goes on in our capital than we, the average American citizen, could ever dream of having.
Now that Obama has taken the oath of office and has began to put his administration together, he has enacted those same rules that are listed above, so we can assume he is taking that part of his campaign rhetoric very seriously. However, there seems to be some exceptions to the rule.
His choice for Deputy Secretary of Defense is William Lynn, who happens to be a senior vice-president at Raytheon, a major contractor to the Defense Department. These people manufacture the Patriot Missile Defense system and the Tomahawk missiles. Lynn not only served as a vice-president, but he also performed lobbying duties for Raytheon.
As the administration gets fully underway, we have another appointment of President Obama who is coming under fire, namely Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Daschle is the President’s choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services and he was in the news over the weekend for his failure to pay $128,203 in back taxes. In retrospect, the tax issue is not what bothers me. With the tax code as complicated as it is and with as many irons in the fire as Daschle probably has, who can blame him if something was overlooked. So, let’s give the man a break on that one.
What brings more questions to my mind is what Tom Daschle has been doing since he was defeated in his Senate re-election bid in 2004. It seems he has brought in over $5 million for providing strategic advise to health care groups. Since he left the Senate, Daschle has been working for Alston & Bird, a lobbying law firm who represent some of the most powerful health care interests. Who do they represent them to? You guessed it, the Department of Health and Human Services.
No one can deny William Lynn and Tom Daschle are very familiar with the departments they are going to be working for. That could be a good thing, with the expertise and influence they will be bringing to their jobs. It could also lead to some very tricky conflict of interest problems and to the undermining of President Obama’s promise to rid his administration of the influence of lobbyists. I am not ready to pass judgment just yet, but the jury of American citizens is definitely in deliberations. As part of that jury, what say you?