President Obama has hired more than 100 lobbyists in his administration, a new academic study reports. This doesn't match Obama's campaign promise to exclude lobbyists, or his pretenses of having kept that promise.
"President Obama's public rhetoric on contact with lobbyists does not always accord with his private actions," lobbying scholar Conor McGrath writes in the latest issue of the Journal of Public Affairs.
If you don't understand why that's a laughable understatement, you should read McGrath's paper - or at least study Table 1 and Table 2, which list the lobbyists who entered the Obama administration and the administration officials who have cashed out to K Street.
McGrath's lobbyist count in the Obama administration is the most thorough count to date. If you ask Team Obama, they have hired zero lobbyist - Obama said in his 2010 State of the Union "we have excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs." David Axelrod said in 2011 that Obama "has ended the revolving door between industry and government.... He doesn't, uh, hire lobbyists."
Politico reported last year that Obama had hired "more than a dozen" lobbyists. I compiled a list of 60 lobbyists in senior jobs. Turns out, I was giving Obama too much credit.
McGrath finds 119 former lobbyists in the Obama administration. The administration employs former in-house lobbyists from Microsoft, Fannie Mae, insurance giant Wellpoint, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Monsanto, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Raytheon, and Goldman Sachs. Obama has hired from the ranks of K Street firms Cassidy & Associates, Covington & Burling, Heather Podesta & Partners, Akin Gump, Arnold & Porter, Winston & Strawn, Timmons & Co., and others.
How did so many lobbyists get in under Obama's supposed "lobbyist ban"? McGrath walks through the exceptions, technicalities, waivers, and apparent disregard for the rules.
Obama on his first day in office issued an executive order restricting former lobbyists from working in his administration.
But any lobbyist that hadn't been registered as such in two years was exempt from the rules. The two-year rule, for instance, is how former lobbyist Alan Hoffman, who represented Visa, Freddie Mac, Unocal, Chrysler, AT&T, and the American Petroleum Institute could get a job as Joe Biden's chief of staff. McGrath lists dozens of ex-lobbyists in this category.
Even recent lobbyists are okay with Obama if their previous lobbying didn't relate to their government job. Emily Burlij was a lobbyist at Cassidy & Associates until the day Obama's Nuclear Regulatory Commission hired her as a policy advisor.
A handful of lobbyists made it around Obama's rules by never registering as such.
James Cole, an Obama recess appointment as deputy attorney general, worked at lobbying firm Bryan Cave, where his work included "representation of corporations and individuals before grand juries, in congressional hearings, in court proceedings and before federal agencies," according to the firm's website.
But Cole never registered, so hiring him was fine.
Then a few lobbyists received explicit waivers from Obama's rules, such as Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn, whom Obama tapped as deputy secretary of defense.
McGrath lists a few dozen lobbyists in two more categories, which are even murkier: "Former lobbyists appointed in apparent break of the spirit of Executive Order 13490" and "Former lobbyists with no waiver, who recused themselves from relevant policy issues or signed an ethics agreement related to the terms of EO 13490."
These include William Schultz, the lobbyist for Barr Laboratories, sole maker of the morning-after contraception pill. Obama hired Schultz as general counsel at the Department of Health and Human Services, which is in the midst of defending a mandate that employers cover contraception under health care benefits, including the morning-after bill.
And that's only the incoming side of the revolving door. McGrath's Table 2 covers the more insidious direction: Those Obama officials who monetize their public service by becoming lobbyists. McGrath lists 37 Obama alumni now on K Street.
Liz Fowler, for instance, ran the lobbying operation at insurer Wellpoint over the last decade, then jumped to the Senate to help craft Obamacare, then to Obama's HHS to help implement Obamacare, and now to the lobbying shop of drug giant Johnson & Johnson to help profit from Obamacare.
Fowler is not a registered lobbyist, highlighting another theme of McGrath's paper: Obama's rules have largely served to fuel unregistered lobbying. He writes "as lobbying is increasingly conducted by unregistered lobbyists, the disclosure system becomes increasingly less transparent."
Obama's "war on lobbyists" was an attempt to capture populist passion. It worked. Now, McGrath aptly concludes, Obama "must bear some responsibility for continuing levels of public cynicism and mistrust of politics, for having made promises he knew he couldn't keep."
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.