Monday, January 7, 2008

Washington lobbyists: Time for Obama's reality check

The issue of Washington lobbyists is one of those high profile, low action issues. Candidates get a lot of press arguing against lobbyists. But it's also one area where I find Barack Obama's rhetoric a little hard to swallow. (And let me say right off, I know I'm going to piss off a lot of my readers, but please, hear me out.)

I watched the debates on ABC the other night, and was impressed with each of the 4 Democratic candidates at different times during the evening. But one topic I wished Charlie Gibson had pursued further as the discussion of lobbyists. With Obama's message of "change" comes his claim that he is untainted by the Washington lobbyists. But I have news for everyone: No one who is as high profile as any of the presidential candidates -- from either party -- is without contact with lobbyists. Lobbyists are a part of life at the Capitol, and they should be. You have probably benefited from some lobbyists work at some point in your life.

You see, lobbyists serve a purpose. Can you take time off work to go meet with your Senators and Representatives to tell them you want them to pass a stronger energy bill? Higher transportation safety laws? Stronger ethics regulations in the federal government? Increased aid for the poor and elderly? Stop the war in Iraq? Chances are, you don't have the time to, as the term goes, lobby for the issues you care about. That's why the lobbyists do it for you.

But yes, they also do it for the big corporations, too. And yes, that is a huge problem, because those lobbyists have more money and influence behind them. The real issue with lobbyists is not their existence, but the imbalance of their level of influence. The drug lobbyists can afford to fly your Senator to a golf trip out west and wine and dine him/her. The local group working to provide drugs to the poor, can barely scrape together bus fare to Washington DC for their own lobbyists. That is the issue, not the existence of the lobbyists themselves.

So, I find it somewhat disingenuous for Obama to claim he is fighting against the most influential lobbyists, when he has those very lobbyists working on his campaign -- oh, no, they're former lobbyists. They are not lobbying while working for Obama. (But won't they make some great connections when they go back to lobbying after the presidential elections?)

From The Hill:
Three political aides on Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) payroll were registered lobbyists for dozens of corporations, including Wal-Mart, British Petroleum and Lockheed Martin, while they received payments from his campaign, according to public documents.

Jen Psaki, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said no member of Obama’s staff has lobbied since taking a full-time role with his campaign.

While many lobbyists are planning to travel to Iowa and New Hampshire after Christmas to stump for their favored candidates, others have taken more committed roles. At least 40 current and former lobbyists have received payments from top-tier presidential campaigns, according to public records that show K Street’s infiltration in the race and offer hints about who may wield influence in the next administration.

Leaving a job temporarily to join a presidential campaign can enhance careers in the influence industry, said veteran lobbyists.

“I can remember my finest hour was taking two months’ leave in 1964 to help the Johnson campaign,” said Tom Quinn, a lobbyist at Venable LLP who temporarily left the Treasury Department to work for former President Lyndon Johnson’s reelection bid. “It puts you on the checklist as having been part of the team. You get to know the players, the people who get to run the government.

“Often the people you meet on the campaign wind up running the government later on,” said Quinn. “That makes a big difference — it gives you a feel of what they can do.”

Teal Baker, who received her first payment from Obama’s campaign on June 13, represented 18 corporations between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year while working as a lobbyist for Podesta Group, a K Street powerhouse. Clients paid Podesta Group over $2 million during those six months for Baker and her colleagues to represent them, according to documents filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.
And, no , it's not just Obama:

One member of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-Ill.) campaign staff was a registered lobbyist during the first half of 2007. Rachel Kelly represented the Great American Insurance Company from January to June. The contract paid less than $10,000.

A Clinton spokesman said Kelly stopped lobbying before joining the campaign.

Jonathan Mantz, Clinton’s finance director, was a registered lobbyist for the Podesta Group in 2005.

Two members of former Sen. John Edwards’s (D-N.C.) staff were registered as lobbyists for the first six months of this year. Adam Jentleson lobbied on behalf of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank headed by John Podesta, the White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration. Matthew Morrison registered as a lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers in 2007.

Colleen Murray, a spokeswoman for Edwards, said both aides have ceased lobbying.

Employers often keep in touch with former colleagues who depart to work for presidential candidates. And more often than not, they are eager to see their protégés return.

“I talk to them all time,” said Tony Podesta, who as the head of Podesta Group worked with Baker and Mantz. “Either one of them is welcome to return.

“They’re both terrific,” he said. “I understand why Clinton wanted Jonathan and Obama wanted Teal.”
I guess what bothers me most about Obama's rhetoric on change is that his words do not match his reality. The reality is a young politician who is part of the same machine as everyone else. To call for change is wonderful. To live it is even better.

Obama's co-chair in New Hampshire, Jim Demers, is a state based lobbyist for the pharmaceutical and financial services industries amongst others. Michael Bauer, a member of Obama's LGBT steering committee, is a state based lobbyist in Chicago. And in Nevada, Obama's campaign also has three state based lobbyists who play senior advising roles in August last year.

From NBC/NJ’s Aswini Anburajan and NBC’s Mark Hudspeth:

Obama's campaign proudly announced today the endorsement of former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges who will join his campaign as a national co-chair.

Hodges is the founder of Hodges Consulting Group, a state-based lobbying firm he started in 2003. The firm is a subsidiary of Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman, L.L.P, a law firm that represents clients in North Carolina and South Carolina.

1 comment:

scepter66 said...

Thank you for the sobering words for those drunk on Obama. I really don't see what is so great about the guy and am very very suspicious of all the support he gets from the media and from conservatives as well.I don't feel that he is the big CHANGE that everyone think that we need . he is very well entrenched in politics as usual in this country. Want to talk about change? then you're talkin' Ron Paul.