I wish I could say I was surprised by this but I’m not. More on that in a minute. First, the story – via Politico:
Caught between their boss’ anti-lobbyist rhetoric and the reality of governing, President Barack Obama’s aides often steer meetings with lobbyists to a complex just off the White House grounds — and several of the lobbyists involved say they believe the choice of venue is no accident.
It allows the Obama administration to keep these lobbyist meetings shielded from public view — and out of Secret Service logs kept on visitors to the White House and later released to the public.
“They’re doing it on the side. It’s better than nothing,” said immigration reform lobbyist Tamar Jacoby, who has attended meetings at the nearby Jackson Place complex and believes the undisclosed gatherings are better than none.
The White House scoffs at the notion of an ulterior motive for scheduling meetings in what are, after all, meeting rooms. But at least four lobbyists who’ve been to the conference rooms just off Lafayette Square tell POLITICO they had the distinct impression they were being shunted off to Jackson Place — and off the books — so their visits wouldn’t later be made public.
Obama’s administration has touted its release of White House visitors logs as a breakthrough in transparency, as the first White House team to reveal the comings and goings around the West Wing and the Old Executive Office Building.
The Jackson Place townhouses are a different story.
There are no records of meetings at the row houses just off Lafayette Square that house the White House Conference Center and the Council on Environmental Quality, home to two of the busiest meeting spaces. The White House can’t say who attended meetings there, or how often. The Secret Service doesn’t log in visitors or require a background check the way it does at the main gates of the White House.
The White House says the additional meeting space is used when the White House is filled or when there’s no time to clear participants through the security screening. And to be sure, a few lobbyists contacted by POLITICO said they didn’t see any hidden motive for the White House staff’s decision to hold a meeting there.
But that’s not how it feels to some of the lobbyists who’ve been there.
They say the White House is generally happy to meet with them and their clients once or twice but get leery when an issue requires multiple visits. These lobbyists say it is then that phone calls or meetings seem to be pushed outside the White House gates.
“Without question, I think that there’s a lot of concern about being seen meeting with the same lobbyists or particular lobbyists over and over again,” said one business lobbyist, who has been to Jackson Place meetings.
It’s not only Jackson Place. Another favorite off-campus meeting spot is a nearby Caribou Coffee, which, according to The New York Times, has hosted hundreds of meetings among lobbyists and White House staffers since Obama took office.
And administration officials recently asked some lobbyists and others who met with them to sign confidentiality agreements barring them from disclosing what was discussed at meetings with administration officials, in that case a rental policy working group.
The administration has defended the practice as a way to “maintain the integrity of our decision-making process.” But it has come under fire from lobbyists and a top House Republican, who have criticized the demand that participants sign a “gag order” before being allowed into meetings. The White House has not responded to repeated requests for comment on its nondisclosure agreement policy.
Sigh. This is the same old song and dance we got from candidate Obama regarding lobbyists and special interests back in 2007 and 2008. The Washington Post, surprisingly enough, was on the case as well and wrote in October 2007 how Obama (and other Democrat candidates for President at the time) could get away with the “no ties to lobbyists/not beholden to special interests” claim:
Exhibit A in the drive by both Obama and Edwards to “clean up” Washington is their refusal to accept “a dime” from “Washington lobbyists.” It distinguishes them clearly from their chief Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who has raked in more than $500,000 from the lobbying industry this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (website is opensecrets.org) But it turns out that both Edwards and Obama have adopted a narrow definition of the word lobbyist, which raises questions about the effectiveness of their campaign.
- They still take money from state lobbyists.
- They make no attempt to distinguish between lobbyists for big corporations and lobbyists for small non-profits. They treat a lobbyist for Haliburton in the same way as a lobbyist for child poverty or cancer research.
- They accept money from former lobbyists and future lobbyists.
- As Clinton has pointed out, her rivals have no problem taking money from the people who pay the lobbyists, and give them their “marching orders.” (ABC News debate, August 19, 2007.)
- They have no problem about taking money from people representing other “special interests,” e.g. trial lawyers and the hedge fund industry.
Obama has emphasized that he does not take money from PhRMA, the powerful lobbying arm of the pharmaceutical industry. On the other hand, he does not seem to mind taking money from senior employees of PhRMA members, such as Pfizer and Eli Lilly. Campaign finance records show that he has raised about $250,000 in pharmaceutical-related contributions this year. (Clinton collected $269,000.) He has also not been averse to helping out Illinois-based pharmaceutical companies with “tariff suspensions.”
Nor does refusing to accept money from federal lobbyists prevent the Obama and Edwards campaigns from accepting in-kind contributions from registered lobbyists in the form of volunteer work. See this Roll Call article. My colleague, Matt Mosk, recently reported that the Obama campaign is hiring a top lobbyist, Moses Mercado, as a senior adviser. Mercado’s accounts with the Ogilvy Government Relations lobbyist group included Pfizer, United Health Group, and the Blackstone Group, which paid millions of dollars to Ogilvy to defeat proposals for doubling taxes paid by private equity managers. Mercado has said he will take a “leave of absence” from Ogilvy in order to work for Obama.
This deception on the issue of lobbyists and special interests has carried over from the campaign to his administration as well. Obama’s right hand man David Axelrod is a lobbyist, for crying out loud.
Make no mistake. Lobbyists are alive, kicking, and meeting with Obama administration officials frequently – often involving multiple visits. As is standard operating procedure with this administration, they’ll look you straight in the eyes and claim one thing, while doing another when they think you’re not looking. They’ll slam “the other side” for partaking in a practice they do as well, and when called out on it, they’re quick to claim “well technically, they weren’t federal registered lobbyists …” It’s stupid. It’s hypocritical and the mainstream media needs to call out the administration’s lobbyist/special interest double standards more aggressively than they have over the last two years because the American people deserve the truth about this administration’s rampant duplicity.
“Transparency” you can believe in? I don’t think so.
I have written about the issue of Obama’s phony claims regarding ties to lobbyists and special interests extensively – see the below links for much more:
- 8/9/07 – Confronting media-aided myths: Barack Obama is no political “outsider”
- 2/20/08 – Whopper of the week: Barack Obama’s claim that he is responsible “to no one but the people”
- 2/21/08 – Barack Obama’s ties to lobbyists and special interests
- 2/21/08 – Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama rank number 1 and 2 for most contributions by lawyers and lobbyists
- 2/27/08 – Obama indicates he will not, as previously pledged, opt for public financing if he becomes the Dem nominee
- 2/27/08 – Obama’s campaign finance games
- 5/25/08 – More on Obama’s hypocrisy regarding lobbyists
- 6/19/08 – Obama’s position on public financing: Just words
- 6/23/08 – Barack Obama betrays his own words once again on special interests
- 7/31/08 – Eight watchdog groups find McCain more transparent about campaign donations than Obama
- 9/15/08 – More on Barack Obama’s “responsible only to the people” lie
- 10/29/08 – Obama campaign donors get access to “top campaign advisers”, depending on how much they donate
- 1/31/09 – Tax issues and lobbyist links strike another Obama cabinet pick