Obama’s Lobbyist Slams Masks Big K Street Payday

by Warner Todd Huston | January 29, 2010 2:05 pm

In his State of the Union speech[1], the president puffed up his chest, fixed his Mr. scornful face, and once again pulled out the populist’s handbook to bash those evil, monstrous lobbyists.

Obama mentioned lobbyists seven times in his address and in every case they were used as a scapegoat to explain away Washington’s inability to get one thing or another done.

Obama promised — again and for the thousandth time — to “end the outsized influence of lobbyists” in Washington. He then praised himself for excluding lobbyists from jobs in his administration and he proposed even more limits on them.

This attack on lobbyists is cathartic and makes for great populist boilerplate, of course, but there isn’t much truth in Obama’s attack on them because the fact is K Street — the D.C. street where many lobbying firms are located — has made more money off the Obama Administration than from any previous president.

And Obama has been pretty blatant about ignoring the obvious disconnect between his populist harangues against lobbyists and his coddling and sidling up to them. Obama’s big paydays to lobbyists at nearly every level has been nothing short of breathtaking. It has been like this since day one.

One is tempted to call the president a prevaricator on the issue.

Obama didn’t even let his TelePrompters get cold before he was snuggling up to lobbyists. The Hill[2] reported that the very next day after Obama attacked the evils of lobbying in the STOU speech his administration invited a bunch of them to private briefings.

The Hill quoted one lobbyist’s frustration with Obama’s habit of talking out of both sides of his mouth where lobbyists are concerned. “Bash lobbyists, then reach out to us. Bash lobbyists [while] I have received four Democratic invitations for fundraisers,” The Hill reported this lobbyist as saying.

Meanwhile, back in December, Politico reported that Lobbyists were on pace for a record year. It was estimated that lobbyists would spend $3.3 billion lobbying the federal government in 2009.

“We’ve never had as good a year,” said one lobbyist whose shop deals mostly with financial services and health care issues. “It’s been a tremendously busy year, and it’s going to keep getting that way,” the lobbyist said, noting that both health care and financial reform will remain active as congressional action moves from drafting legislation to implementation to the inevitable fixes.

Never had as good a year? I thought Obama was the veritable Jack the Lobbyist killer?

During the SOTU Obama wanted brownie points because he “excluded lobbyists” from important jobs in his administration. This has been a longtime refrain from this president. Even as he began his term last year he claimed he was instituting the “strictest ethics rules ever applied[3]” to lobbyists in Washington. The truth, however, shows that his back patting does not quite ring true. As early as February 2 of 2009 it was becoming clear that quite a few lobbyists had, indeed, been hired into the Obama Administration. It was so obvious that Politico began tracking[4] the number of lobbyists that Obama was hiring — and waiving his new “rules” for. Politico discovered at least a dozen had been hired by the end of January, 2009.

The lobbyist’s big payday didn’t end there. In March Chris Frates reported[5] that former Democratic legislative aides were “hot commodities” for lobbying firms as Obama’s new rules became increasingly dense and hard to understand. By May 30 Roll Call was reporting[6] (subscription required) that the Obama Administration was lifting some of its bans on lobbyists so that they could get their hooks more easily into the stimulus spending. Last August Obama even “gave a seat at the table[7]” of healthcare negotiations to a former Congressman turned healthcare lobbyist.

If I can paraphrase Chico Escuela, former faux baseball great, the truth is that Obama has been berry, berry good to lobbyists. So much for the hopinchange and the end of lobbyist’s influence in the era of Obama.

  1. State of the Union speech: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-state-union-address
  2. The Hill: http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/78509-after-obama-rips-k-street-administration-invites-lobbyists-to-private-briefings%20
  3. strictest ethics rules ever applied: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/11/obama_announces_transition_eth.html
  4. began tracking: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0109/18128.html
  5. Chris Frates reported: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0309/19532.html
  6. reporting: http://www.rollcall.com/news/35342-1.html
  7. gave a seat at the table: http://www.publiusforum.com/2009/08/10/newest-obama-smoke-screen-%E2%80%98gives%E2%80%99-drug-lobby-%E2%80%98seat-at-table%E2%80%99/

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