WaPo's Shear Ignores Obama Pledge-breaking on Lobbyists

The "Obama Team Moves to Keep Its Distance From Lobbyists," the page A4 Washington Post headline insisted. Yet as the article made clear, the spatial separation is walking, if not throwing distance.

The November 12 story by staffer Michael Shear began by noting that Obama "campaigned as an anti-Washington candidate" and that his transition team "made it clear" that the president-elect "would seek to build on that theme over the next two months."

As evidence of that, Shear explained the transition team's rules "that restrict how federal lobbyists can participate" in the Obama transition. Yet Shear failed to note how the standard has shifted over the course of Obama's campaign (emphasis mine):

Barack Obama campaigned as an anti-Washington candidate, and the leader of his presidential transition team made it clear that the president-elect would seek to build on that theme over the next two months.

His transition chief, John D. Podesta, announced a set of broad regulations yesterday that restrict how federal lobbyists can participate in Obama's transition, saying the move is designed to ensure "that the undue influence of Washington lobbyists and the revolving door of Washington ceases to exist."

The transition team will not allow lobbyists to work in the subject areas in which they have previously lobbied, Podesta said. And if someone becomes a lobbyist after working on the transition, that person will be prohibited from lobbying the administration for 12 months on matters on which he or she worked.

"I've heard the other complaint, which is we're leaving all these experts on the side. . . . We're leaving all the people who know everything out in the cold," Podesta said. "And so be it." He said a similar ban was likely to be in effect for the actual administration, including an extension of the lobbyist ban to two years.

Although Podesta's fuzzy statement on the lobbyist ban -- "likely to be in effect" -- suggested a step or two back away from Obama's prior campaign pledge, Shear turned in paragraph five to how Obama will "remain largely absent" from the nation's capital as "part of a conscious effort to maintain a low profile during the final weeks of the Bush administration."

As Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico reported in her Dec. 15, 2007 article, "Obama tweaks lobbyist pledge," the candidate had backpedaled a bit on his initial promise about lobbyists to clarify that they could serve in his administration, just not in the area of their expertise for two years (emphasis mine):

The tempered language underscored a pitfall for candidates who boil down complex policy proposals into bite-sized nuggets that leave one impression on the campaign trail, but could look differently once implemented in Washington.

Lobbyists can work in an Obama administration — just not for two years in an area related to their work as lobbyists, according to the candidate’s proposal released earlier this year.

For example, a Sierra Club lobbyist could not move directly into the Environmental Protection Agency, but might be able to do so after two years of working elsewhere in the administration.

Obama casts himself as a break from the usual Washington politicians, highlighting his refusal to take donations from lobbyists, his pledge to make government more transparent, and his intention to close the revolving door between the White House and lobbying firms.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters