Obama has spoken out numerous times against the influence of lobbying in the United States. He also co-sponsored legislation that limits lobbyists' influence by mandating that lawmakers pay full charter fare when flying on lobbyists' corporate jets. But critics have accused him of promoting a lack of transparency and accountability.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce accused President Obama’s administration of “putting secrecy over transparency in an effort to avoid accountability” in a report released Tuesday by its Republican majority. Administration officials have met with lobbyists outside the White House to avoid recording the lobbyists’ names on White House visitor logs and used personal e-mail accounts to conduct government business, according to the report -- a possible violation of the Presidential Records Act, if the e-mails were not preserved.
Jim Messina, a former White House deputy chief of staff who is now Obama’s campaign manager, sent emails from a private account to schedule meetings with lobbyists away from the White House in order to keep them from being detected, according to a report published Tuesday by House Republicans.
When the president wanted to appoint former Senator Tom Daschle to be his health care czar and Secretary of Health and Human Services, White House officials carefully pointed out that he was not, in fact, a registered lobbyist.
Instead, they said at the time, he was merely part of an established Washington law firm that did lobbying work.
President Obama has appointed former lobbyist Cecilia Muñoz to serve as the new director of the Domestic Policy Council, the White House announced today.
“Over the past three years, Cecilia has been a trusted advisor who has demonstrated sound judgment day in and day out,” Obama said in a statement. “Cecilia has done an extraordinary job working on behalf of middle class families, and I’m confident she’ll bring the same unwavering dedication to her new position.”
While the 15 bundlers cited by the Times may not meet the technical criteria to be registered lobbyists, the influence they wield in Washington on behalf of their business interests is clear. Sally Susman, for instance, is an executive who leads the lobbying shop for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, though she's not technically a lobbyist herself. She's raised more than $500,000 for Mr. Obama's re-election and helped organize a $35,800-a-ticket dinner the president attended.
At least 15 of Mr. Obama’s “bundlers” — supporters who contribute their own money to his campaign and solicit it from others — are involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies. They have raised more than $5 million so far for the campaign.
Because the bundlers are not registered as lobbyists with the Senate, the Obama campaign has managed to avoid running afoul of its self-imposed ban on taking money from lobbyists.
An Obama campaign official said Johnson had not been involved in lobbying since April and would not discuss his former clients with the administration or campaign. Johnson also sits on the board of the Commission to Engage African Americans on Climate Change, part of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the official said.
Obama’s campaign has hired Broderick Johnson, who had been a lobbyist for Microsoft, Comcast and TransCanada, the company seeking to build the Keystone XL pipeline. Earlier, Obama administration officials got around their self-imposed rule (which prevents a lobbyist from serving for two years) by granting waivers to people Obama sought to appoint, such as former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn, who got a top job at the Pentagon.
As president, in addition to issuing rules restricting the hiring of lobbyists for administration jobs, Obama has banned lobbyist membership on advisory panels and refused to accept campaign contributions from lobbyists or corporate political action committees. He also voluntarily discloses his top campaign bundlers, a step not taken so far by his Republican challengers.
But Obama has angered some good-government groups by opting out of the public financing system and continuing to accept donations from employees at lobbying firms who aren’t registered as lobbyists.
More than any president before him, Obama pledged to change the political culture that has fueled the influence of lobbyists. He barred recent lobbyists from joining his administration and banned them from advisory boards throughout the executive branch. The president went so far as to forbid what had been staples of political interaction — federal employees could no longer accept free admission to receptions and conferences sponsored by lobbying groups.