Tougher Rules Against Revolving Door for Lobbyists and Former Officials

Promise Broken Obama has broken this promise:

“No political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration." —Obama ethics plan


Other promises made regarding his administration.


Updated: March 17, 2009

Former lobbyist in the White House? It's okay if they say it's okay.

Of the 513 promises we're tracking, this one has become the most controversial. It is the cornerstone of President Obama's campaign theme about limiting the influence of special interests.

During the campaign, Obama said many times that lobbyists would not run his White House, and the campaign delighted in tweaking rival John McCain for the former lobbyists who worked on McCain's campaign.

Obama's ethics proposals specifically spelled out that former lobbyists would not be allowed to "work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years." On his first full day in office, Obama signed an executive order to that effect.

But the order has a loophole — a "waiver" clause that allows former lobbyists to serve. That waiver clause has been used at least three times, and in some cases, the administration allows former lobbyists to serve without a waiver.

After examining the administration's actions for the past two months, we have concluded that Obama has broken this promise.

The waiver process in the executive order is certainly official-looking. But the waivers are granted by the Obama administration itself, and are little more than the administration saying a former lobbyist is okay. For a candidate who pledged to conduct business out in the open, there is little transparency about when a waiver is required. Even good-government advocates we spoke with who praised Obama's overall policy found the waiver process to be unclear.

By itself, the nomination of former Raytheon lobbyist William J. Lynn to be deputy defense secretary provides sufficient evidence for us to rate this a broken promise. Lynn's waiver requires that he not participate "personally and substantially" in any matter in which Raytheon is a party for one year, which directly contradicts Obama's campaign pledge and executive order to make ex-lobbyists wait two years.

But there's more than just Lynn. The administration's handling of other former lobbyists provides further evidence that the promise has been broken:

  • In some cases, the White House apparently has decided that former lobbyists don't need waivers at all. If the former lobbyists simply recuse themselves from discussions concerning whatever interest it is for which they used to lobby, then that suffices.
  • Recusals appear to have even less documentation than waivers. We have yet to see a recusal "order," despite having asked the White House for them. We know there are at least two recusals; there may be more. We're not sure how recusals specifically differ from waivers because the White House has said little about the policy.
  • The White House is not prompt about releasing the waivers. For two nominees who didn't require Senate approval, waivers were released weeks after they were signed and after the people took their positions. These two waivers were also substantially less detailed than the waiver issued for Lynn.

This promise was previosly rated as Hedged while we waited to see whether Lynn was confirmed and how the Obama White House handled its waiver process. Some have said that Lynn alone caused the promise to be broken, but we felt that a transparent, timely and objective waiver process might merit a ruling of Hedged. But the concerns about waivers and recusals outlined above have convinced us that this promise is not being kept in letter or in spirit, and a Hedged rating is no longer appropriate.

Obama was very clear about his promise. He said no lobbyists would "work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years." No means none.

Updated: January 25, 2009

Obama seeks waivers for at least two lobbyists

Early in his campaign for President, Senator Barack Obama, explaining his plan to reduce the influence of special interests, made what sounded like clear-cut pledges to bar the more than 35,000 registered federal lobbyists from ever working in his administration.

After making numerous statements that lobbyists WOULD NOT work in his White House, candidate Obama seems to have changed his mind and began saying that no one who had worked as a lobbyist during the previous two years would work in his administration. That also seemed too difficult a promise for him to keep and he is now seeking waivers for at least two of his recent lobbyists/nominees.

Regardless of how much his supporters may want to quibble, we believe that Mr. Obama's original promises made in Iowa and other places have absolutely been broken.

See also: Tougher Rules for Lobbyists and Former Officials

Source: Obama tweaks lobbyist pledge

Updated: November 25. 2008

Ex-Lobbyists have key Obama roles

Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to change Washington, vowing to upend the K Street lobbying culture he encountered when he joined the U.S. Senatem yet more than a dozen members of President-elect Obama's fast-growing transition team have worked as federally registered lobbyists within the past four years. Washington Post Nov. 15, 2008

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