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Obama’s Lobbyists

It’s funny how much the new looks like the old.

As a candidate, Barack Obama vigorously campaigned against lobbyists’ influence in his Administration. His Administration, we were told, would be free of their taint. No lobbyists would get a job in an Obama Administration working in areas they had lobbied on. He would bring about a clean break with the past, “turn the page,” and put an end to acts that create cynicism among the public.

Except that he won’t. According to ABC News:

Despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to limit the influence of lobbyists in his administration, a recent lobbyist for investment banking giant Goldman Sachs is in line to serve as chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Mark Patterson was a registered lobbyist for Goldman until April 11, 2008, according to public filings. Patterson first began lobbying for Goldman Sachs in 2005, after working as policy director for then-Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. According to publicly filed lobbying disclosure records, he worked on issues related to the banking committee, climate change and carbon trading and immigration reform, among others.

This follows the revelation that William J. Lynn, a government relations executive for defense contracting giant Raytheon, has been asked to be Deputy Secretary of Defense; Michele Flournoy, Obama’s nominee for the Pentagon’s No. 3 job, undersecretary of defense for policy, is partner with her husband in a consulting firm whose clients include major defense contractors Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems North America; and William Corr, nominated for deputy secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, is listed in House and Senate records last year as having lobbied the agency on behalf of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

And what are we to make of this? “Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions,” the so far underwhelming and overmatched White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. “Our waiver provisions are designed to allow uniquely qualified individuals like Bill Corr and Bill Lynn to serve the public interest in these critical times.”

Funny, those “reasonable exceptions” never came up once during the campaign, not in single interview, not in a single speech, and not in a single debate.

And more. We were told (by Obama himself!) that his administration would be oh-so-quick to admit mistakes. They would not engage in “spin.” They would treat the American people as serious-minded adults. It was all part of the new way of doing business, you see.

If this were in fact the case, Gibbs would have come out and said what is true: Senator Obama made a silly promise as a candidate that he decided he shouldn’t fulfill as president. Lobbyists were an easy target during the campaign – but now that he needs to govern, Obama sees that the standard he promised was unwise and couldn’t be upheld. He shouldn’t have made the promise; having done so, Obama has now decided it’s worth violating that commitment in order to get qualified people into important posts.

That would have been the honest, straightforward response. Instead, from Mr. Gibbs we have gotten typical, tiresome doubletalk. What makes all this particularly irksome is that Obama and his team made “changing Washington” and cleaning out the Augean stables a centerpiece of their campaign.

The problems they now find themselves faced with result from a presidential candidate who engaged in moral preening. Fortunate enough to be elected, he now risks the appearance of hypocrisy. Maybe because it’s there. And just think, he’s only been in office a week.



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