Students seeking a tour of the White House have been locked out due to sequestration, but lobbyists looking for help from President Obama have found an open door.
The White House cancelled all tours, effective March 9, 2013, citing budget cuts necessitated by sequestration. But the work of the White House must go on, so President Obama met with Tony Podesta, one of the top lobbyists in D.C., on April 18, 2013. Podesta’s 2013 clients, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, include: Google, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Solar Reserve — an Energy Department loan guarantee recipient tied to Solyndra – and some of the energy drink companies that Senate Democrats have recently decided to target for increased regulation, such as Monster Energy and Rockstar, Inc. (White House visitor logs say that 412 people were in that meeting, so it seems likely Podesta was there for the Greek Independence Day reception hosted by the president.)
Obama met with another lobbyist, Susan Brophy, on March 19, 2013. Brophy works for the Glover Park Group, whose clients include Planned Parenthood, JPMorgan Chase, and Wanxiang Group (the Chinese auto parts company that recently received permission from the Committee on Foreign Investment to purchase A123 Systems, a green car battery company that failed despite receiving a $249.1 million grant through the 2009 stimulus). Only three people attended this meeting, according to White House visitor logs.
Brophy also met with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on March 22, 2013, and April 1, 2013.
Not every lobbyist gets a meeting with the president, though. Steven Elmendorf — whose clients include Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence — contented himself with meeting McDonough on March 22, 2013. And met with him again on April 1, 2013. (April 1 was a busy day for McDonough, who also met with John Podesta, Tony’s brother. John is no longer a registered lobbyist, but he co-founded The Podesta Group). Elmendorf also met with Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Bruce Reed, on April 24, 2013.
These are just a few of the lobbyists whose names you can read in the White House visitor logs (thanks to the indefatigable Tim Carney for generating the list).
If Obama’s personal meetings with lobbyists come as a surprise, bear in mind that he let John Podesta co-chair his transition team and (in that capacity) issue a statement on the lobbying reforms that the president implemented in 2009.
“President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to change the way Washington works and curb the influence of lobbyists,” Podesta said in a statement. “During the campaign, federal lobbyists could not contribute to or raise money for the campaign. Today, the President-elect is taking those commitments even further by announcing the strictest, and most far reaching ethics rules of any transition team in history.”