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Lobbyists in the White House

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

About LD Jackson

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LD Jackson has written 2053 posts in this blog.

Founder and author of the political and news commentary blog Political Realities. I have always loved to write, but never have I felt my writing was more important than in this present day. If I have changed one mind or impressed one American about the direction our country is headed, then I will consider my endeavors a success. I take the tag line on this blog very seriously. Above all else, in search of the truth.

  • Laurie. Oregon

    I, too, am bothered by this, as are most of the registered Democrats I’ve talked to.

    If you read the entire executive order, there is an explicit waiver clause that allows for lobbyists to be appointed, essentially rendering the entire order moot if the administration chooses. Of course, politicians will always allow themselves wiggle room, and perhaps the appointments that have fallen under the category of “waivers” were the very best candidates and absolutely necessary components to the new administration.

    But it is incredibly disappointing to have an executive order (true to campaign promises) signed with great fanfare, only to see the waiver clause utilized the next day. I might have been far more comfortable with it if, during the media announcements, Obama had just come clean. Perhaps, in these times where experts with experience in chosen fields are essential, it’s hard to find qualified appointees who have no ties to lobbying efforts. But why not just say that, tell us of the few choices he’s made that will fall under waivers, and be out with it?

    The manner in which Obama conducted himself here was a bit slimy, and seems to be a great example of transparency in government only if you really look through the opaque screen thrown up. Again- deeply disappointing.

  • I think the entire culture of lobbyists and Washington has been taken entirely too far. These people clearly have more sway and influence on Congress and the way our business is conducted than we, the American taxpayer does. There is just something inherently wrong with this way of doing business.

    As for President Obama, I really want to be fair towards him and give him a chance to do his job. However, with things like this showing up right off the start, it is not encouraging.

  • Capitalista

    Do you think it’s possible that lobbyists get a bad rap?

    In light of the scandals, I’m glad we looked at our ethics, and decided to come up with rules that would prevent corruption/bribery/etc from lobbyists in Washington, but maybe we’ve gone too far in the way we have villified all of them, and continue to think of them as bad guys, even after the new rules have already been set in place. To say that they cannot be appointed because of their lobbying past might be a bit unecessarry.

    In fact, some of Obama’s promises may have been out of naivete, or at the very least, taking advantage of the naivety of most Americans in order to earn himself more popularity points. Now that he’s in and it’s the moment of truth, some of those lobbyists don’t seem like such bad guys afterall. A guy who lobbied for Raytheon might understand a thing or two about the needs, capabilities and interests of the defense industry, which provides a strong foundation in order to make decisions in the position he is being appointed too. Daschle… well, he’s a tax cheat and is out now, so who cares about him?

    The thing is lobbyists are easy targets, because no one cares enough to defend them. It’s amazing so many continue to even do the job of the lobbyists, considering how much they are hated and blamed by the majority of Americans. Are some bad? Sure, there are bad people everywhere, especially when you are dealing with power. Power corrupts, so from time to time you will find people who have power involved in corruption… If anything, I’d be more worried about what congressional lobbyists scandals say about our elected officials than what it says about lobbyists.

    Anyway, here’s a good article on lobbyists:

    • That’s an interesting article on lobbyists, Nicole. You may very well have a good point that they do get a bad rap. I think what bothers me the most is how they seem to wield an unusual amount of influence over the policies that are enacted in Washington, much more than the average American taxpayer.

  • Laurie. Oregon

    Thank you, Capitalista, for the sharp refocus…The politicians have done an excellent job of getting the public to equate “lobbyist” with “bastard cheat”. It seems to be the one thing that pols from all sides have agreed on (at least in public)…And I guess that should have been an obvious clue to question the premise.

    The next time politicians band together to villify in one lump the “lobbyists”, I will consider whether or not it is a smokescreen designed to take the focus off of the politicians who so willingly yield to their influence. It’s a two way street, yes? Time to hold the elected responsible for their responsibility to the electorate.

  • Mike

    Clearly the lobbyists need a good lobbyist to lobby for them!

  • Capitalista

    lol- I just got in a big debate with my hubby about how good or bad lobbyists are… so there are definitely too sides to the coin! Now I’m really going to look more into this whole issue!! >;)

  • Capitalista

    Here are two awesome articles from the Heritage foundation on the subject. Essentially, not all lobbyists are bad, but the more money and power that is up for grabs, the more corruption and greed that will likely follow. Therefore, the bigger the government, the worse the problem.