Tougher Rules for Lobbyists & Former Officials

Promise Hedged President Obama has hedged on the following promises:

"When you walk into my administration, you will not be able to work on regulations or contracts related to your former employer for two years. When you leave, you will not be able to lobby the administration throughout the remainder of my term in office." — 5/19/08, Billings, Mont.

“When I am president, I will make it absolutely clear that working in an Obama administration is not about serving your former employer, your future employer or your bank account –- it's about serving your country, and that's what comes first.” — 6/22/07, New Hampshire Community Technical College, Manchester, N.H.

UPDATES:

Updated: Friday, January 23, 2009

On his first full day in office, President Obama signed an executive order that toughened rules for former lobbyists, requiring them to wait two years before serving in an agency which they lobbied. It seemed he had kept his promise and we quickly rated it as such (See January 21 update below).

Since that time, however, we have learned that the executive order Obama signed includes a waiver clause. The executive order says a waiver may be granted if "the literal application of the restriction is inconsistent with the purposes of the restriction" or "it is in the public interest … The public interest shall include, but not be limited to, exigent circumstances relating to national security or to the economy."

In fact, it seems a waiver is already the works for William J. Lynn III, the appointee to be Deputy Secretary of Defense. Lynn was formerly a lobbyist for the giant defense contractor Raytheon.

The waiver clause states that an exception to the rule should serve the public interest, and it has to be signed by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. That might sound like an independent party, but OMB is part of the Obama White House, so it essentially means the administration would decide on its own who merits a waiver.

In a statement on January 22, 2009, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the committee needs more information before confirming Lynn and that the committee wants to know "whether a waiver will be forthcoming and what the scope of the waiver will be."

Another waiver is also in the works for former lobbyist, William Corr, who was nominated to be deputy secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. He previously lobbied for the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Corr has not yet been confirmed, but ABC News' Jake Tapper quoted a White Official saying that Corr intends to recuse himself from tobacco policy.

Perhaps a man who lobbyied to keep children from smoking could work in the Health Department without a conflict, but the nomination of a defense industry lobbyist to work at the Department of Defense seems to violate the spirit of (if not contradict) Obama's promise.

Since two waivers are being proposed only days after the signing, we are marking this promiise as "hedged." We’ll keep an eye on this situation to see if other waivers for lobbyists are put forward by the administration.

If the number increases we may lower the rating on this promises to "broken."


Updated: Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama signs executive order on lobbyists and former officials

In one of his first acts as president, Barack Obama kept a campaign promise to toughen ethics rules, signing an executive order on Jan. 21, 2009.

"If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years," Obama said at the signing ceremony. "When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am president. And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration as well."

The title of the order is "Executive Order on Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel." (See the full text here.)

Sources:

CNN, "Vowing transparency, Obama OKs ethics guidelines," Jan. 21, 2009.

The White House Office of the Press Secretary, text of executive order


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