President Obama promised during his campaign that lobbyists "won't find a job in my White House." So far, though, at least a dozen former lobbyists have found top jobs in his administration...I’ll concede two points up front – first, that not all campaign promises can necessarily be kept. Lots of things are said in a year-long campaign, and some ideas become impractical or impossible later. But statements of principle are another matter. If important principles are compromised, then the administration in power is not the one the majority voted for. And I’ll concede that former lobbyists may be among the most knowledgeable and experienced persons in their field of the expertise, and may have the best qualifications for the government job.
Obama aides did not challenge the the list..., but they stressed that former lobbyists comprise a fraction of the more than 8,000 employees who will be hired…
[A] recent presidential executive order forbids executive branch employees from working in an agency, or on a program, for which they have lobbied in the last two years.
Yet in the past few days, a number of exceptions have been granted, with the administration conceding at least two waivers and that a handful of other appointees will recuse themselves from dealing with matters on which they lobbied within the two-year window.
“It would be more honest if they admitted they made a mistake and came up with a narrower rule,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Obviously, they can’t live with the rule, which is why they keep waving the magic wand and making exceptions. They’re saying one thing and doing another. It’s why the public is skeptical about politicians.”
That said, these appointments (or nominations) still leave a bad taste. Yes, these are a “fraction” of the 8,000 that will be hired, but note that these are top positions – the Attorney General, the Secretary of Agriculture, for cryin’ out loud. The Obama team may be strict about enforcing “no lobbying” to the minor functionaries, but when it comes to the top spots they “give a pass” to the big boys. It’s the same favoritism that allows the Treasury nominee to have avoided paying taxes. One form of justice for the powerful, something else for the rest of us.
There’s a lot to be proud of in these first weeks of the Obama administration, but hints of a return to “politics as usual” or the absence of moral hazard are worrisome. We’ll keep watching…