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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old 02-03-2009, 09:14 AM Thread Starter
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PROMISES, PROMISES: No lobbyists at WH, except ...

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama promised a "clean break from business as usual" in Washington. It hasn't quite worked out that way.

From the start, he made exceptions to his no-lobbyist rule. And now, embarrassing details about Cabinet-nominee Tom Daschle's tax problems and big paychecks from special interest groups are raising new questions about the reach and sweep of the new president's promised reforms.

Maybe he shouldn't have promised so much, some open-government advocates say. They're willing to cut him some slack — for now.

On Jan. 21, the day after his inauguration, Obama issued an executive order barring any former lobbyists who join his administration from dealing with matters or agencies related to their lobbying work. Nor could they join agencies they had lobbied in the previous two years.

However, William J. Lynn III, his choice to become the No. 2 official at the Defense Department, recently lobbied for military contractor Raytheon. And William Corr, tapped as deputy secretary at Health and Human Services, lobbied through most of last year as an anti-tobacco advocate. Corr says he will take no part in tobacco matters in the new administration.

"Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

That was a big step back from Obama's unambiguous swipe at lobbyists in November 2007, while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. "I don't take a dime of their money," he said, "and when I am president, they won't find a job in my White House."

The waivers granted for Lynn and Corr caused some in Washington to wince. But others, including many longtime advocates of tougher ethical standards, suggest it all says as much about deeply ingrained practices — and even necessities — in Washington as about a new president.

"Sometimes you can over-promise," said former Sen. Warren Rudman, a Republican from New Hampshire.

"This government is very complicated," he said. "Often you'll need people with a lot of experience in certain areas," and current or former lobbyists sometimes fit that bill best.

"It was probably a mistake to come down so hard on lobbyists," said Melanie Sloan, who is not shy about criticizing lobbyists or politicians as executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "I think the Obama folks' intentions were great here," she said. "But sometimes you realize you can't actually govern on just what you campaigned on."

Sloan and others said embarrassments over Daschle, one of several top Obama appointees with a history of influencing government for clients, should not detract from the president's first-day vow to sharply limit the role of lobbyists in his administration.

Daschle, a former senator tapped to head Health and Human Services, is not technically a lobbyist. But he was paid more than $5.2 million over the past two years as he advised health insurers and hospitals and worked in other industries such as energy and telecommunications.

Fred Wertheimer of Democracy21 is one of Washington's best-known advocates of more open and honest government. He called Obama's executive order "unprecedented and almost revolutionary in nature" and "a direct attack on the culture of Washington and the way business is done here."

"A few waivers will not undermine it," he said, provided they are justified and limited.

The best way to limit the influence of wealthy special interests, Wertheimer said, is to increase public funding for presidential elections and restrict the amount that private business can pump into campaigns and politics. That could pave the way for tighter restrictions on influence-peddling in Congress, he said.

Obama declined public financing for his campaign so he could raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on his own. Some people saw that a virtual death knell for campaign public financing, but Wertheimer said he believes Obama will deliver on aides' promises to help "repair the system."

Daschle, the former Senate majority leader from South Dakota, strikes many in Washington as a good example of why the revolving door between government and highly paid private-sector jobs can be troubling, but also why an outright ban on such movements would be unwise.

Even Republicans praised Daschle's cerebral, soft-spoken approach to government and politics, and his expertise on subjects including health care. He didn't choose to leave Congress for a high-paying job, but was defeated in a close re-election bid in 2004.

Once out, he was attractive and valuable to all sorts of government-regulated industries, even if he never registered as a lobbyist who could make straightforward appeals for or against legislation affecting his clients.
He received more than $2 million over two years as a senior policy adviser for the Washington law firm Alston & Bird. He also earned more than $2 million in consulting fees from InterMedia Advisors LLC of New York, an investment firm specializing in buyouts and industry consolidation. An associate let Daschle use his car and driver, for which Daschle had to pay late taxes and interest.

Several health groups also paid Daschle $15,000 or more to speak to their gatherings.

"He welcomed every opportunity to make his case to the American public at large, and the health industry in particular, that America can't afford to ignore the health care crisis any longer," said his spokeswoman Jenny Backus.

Wertheimer, of Democracy21, said that rather than dwell on Daschle's problems or the Corr and Lynn waivers, he focuses on Obama's executive order and the hope of progress to come on public financing of campaigns.
The executive order "laid down a mark," Wertheimer said. "More has to be done, and tough battles have to be won."

PROMISES, PROMISES: No lobbyists at WH, except ... - Yahoo! News

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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old 02-03-2009, 09:16 AM Thread Starter
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Obama's ethics pledge haunts him...

WASHINGTON: During almost two years on the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a "new era of responsibility." What he did not talk much about were the asterisks.

The exceptions that went unmentioned now include a pair of cabinet nominees who did not pay all of their taxes. Then there is the lobbyist for a military contractor who is now slated to become the No. 2 official in the Pentagon. And there are the others brought into government from the influence industry even if not formally registered as lobbyists.

President Barack Obama said Monday that he was "absolutely" standing behind former Senator Tom Daschle, his nominee for health and human services secretary, and Daschle, who met late in the day with leading senators in an effort to keep his confirmation on track, said he had "no excuse" and wanted to "deeply apologize" for his failure to pay $128,000 in U.S. taxes.

But the episode has already shown how, when faced with the perennial clash between campaign rhetoric and Washington reality, Obama has proved willing to compromise.

Every four or eight years a new president arrives in town, declares his determination to cleanse a dirty process and invariably winds up trying to reconcile the clear ideals of electioneering with the muddy business of governing. Obama on his first day in office imposed perhaps the toughest ethics rules of any president in modern times, and since then he and his advisers have been trying to explain why they do not cover this case or that case.

"This is a big problem for Obama, especially because it was such a major, major promise," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "He harped on it, time after time, and he created a sense of expectation around the country. This is exactly why people are skeptical of politicians, because change we can believe in is not the same thing as business as usual."

And so in these opening days of the administration, the Obama team finds itself being criticized by bloggers on the left and the right, mocked by television comics and questioned by reporters about whether Obama is really changing the way Washington works or just changing which political party works it.

Some Republicans saw a double standard. "What would it be like if Hank Paulson had come in without paying his taxes, or any other member of the cabinet?" asked Terry Nelson, a political strategist who worked for President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, referring to Bush's Treasury secretary. "It would be roundly attacked and roundly criticized."

Several Democrats, including some who have advised Obama, said privately that he had only himself to blame for laying out such an uncompromising standard as a candidate without recognizing how it would complicate his ability to assemble an administration.

In the campaign, Obama assailed Washington's "entire culture" in which "our leaders have thrown open the doors of Congress and the White House to an army of Washington lobbyists who have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play." He vowed to "close the revolving door" and "clean up both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue" with "the most sweeping ethics reform in history."

The language, however, was always more sweeping than the specifics. He spoke of refusing campaign money from lobbyists but took it from the people who hired them. The ethics plan he outlined, and eventually imposed on his administration, did not ban all lobbyists outright but set conditions for their employment and did not cover many who were lobbyists in everything but name.

Daschle, for instance, is not a registered lobbyist, but he made a handsome living advising clients seeking influence with the government, including some in the health industry. Obama also gave himself the right to grant waivers in cases he deemed exceptional, most prominently to William Lynn III, an ex-Raytheon lobbyist he nominated as deputy defense secretary. Others were lobbyists more than two years ago, and therefore not covered by the Obama rules.

Some who worked as lobbyists have found places in the administration, including Mark Patterson, who represented Goldman Sachs and is now chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. William Corr, who lobbied for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, has been selected as deputy health and human services secretary.

Obama advisers said that the exceptions were minimal given the thousands to be hired and that appointees like Lynn would be barred from work on matters directly related to their former employers. The exceptions, they said, were needed for particular skills and experience...

Obama's promise of ethics reform faces early test - International Herald Tribune

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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old 02-03-2009, 09:48 AM
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I think BO was trying to say that lobbying practices of the past were going to be reformed and decisions would not be made based on one's associations or past dealings.
Just my opinion.

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If it helps America through it's current crisis, I say go ahead! We can take it, after all we're Canadian!

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