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Obama’s ‘Lobbyist Ban’: A White House ‘Aspiration’ To Remain Unenforced

by on Monday, October 12, 2009 at 10:25 am EDT in Politics, World

Kevin Bogardus of The Hill did a nice follow-up on the status of Obama’s campaign promise to ban all lobbyists from serving in his administration.  The White House issued a ‘guidance’ on the matter two weeks ago, and here’s what Bogardus’s investigative reporting uncovered:

The Hill contacted all 20 Cabinet-level agencies to see if they intended to follow the guidance issued two weeks ago by the White House. Twelve agencies returned messages before press time and all said they would adhere to the guidelines.

Norm Eisen, special counsel to The President (for ethics and government reform) revealed to The Hill that it was not being enforced by the White House, but being “left up to each of the agencies to follow through.”  Here’s how Eisen described the White House’s ‘guidance’ in his Sept. 23 blog post:

“The White House has informed executive agencies and departments that it is our aspiration that federally registered lobbyists not be appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions.”

The White House is leaving itself wiggle room to shirk its own initiative; one Obama campaigned on to restore integrity to the Executive Branch and ensure our policy-makers at the highest levels of government have no conflict of interest and that interest groups don’t have undue influence on policy:

Obama: “I am running to tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over. They have not funded my campaign. They won’t work in my White House.”

What is it with Obama that his most deeply held principles, as espoused on the campaign trail, seem to lack any personal commitment now that he has an opportunity to actually make them a reality?

The United States can no longer risk having defense industry lobbyists, nor lobbyists of foreign countries — present or former — working for the Pentagon, and playing decisive roles in determining whether or not we allocate more troops and resources to Afghanistan, or whether or not we bomb Iran.  Could there be another conflict of interest in the entire stratosphere with the potential to inflict such massive havoc upon U.S. national security, as well as upon its financial stability — not to mention the potential for massive loss of life and destruction?

Geoff Morrell, press secretary for the Pentagon, said they intended to abide by the White House ‘guidance’.

Bogardus examines the logistics of what that would entail:

If the Pentagon follows through on not appointing lobbyists to its advisory committees, that could affect a number of individuals who are [already] advising Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

For example, Vin Weber sits on the Defense Policy Board, a powerful advisory committee in the Pentagon. Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, advises the secretary and other top officials in the Pentagon on defense policy.

But Weber is a managing partner at Clark & Weinstock.  He registered to lobby this year for a number of high-profile corporations, such as Bechtel, eBay and KPMG. Under the White House guidance, the lobbyist will either have to terminate his registration or not be reappointed when his term is up.

Many of you will remember Weber’s client, Bechtel, as the company awarded the no-bid contracts to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq.   You may also remember the big news about how “Pentagon auditors were ‘going easy’ on Bechtel despite their chronic failure to provide the financial records required to prove tax dollars were being spent properly”.  In addition to Bechtel, Clark & Weinstock have a client list that includes many of the country’s largest defense companies, such as Boeing, General Dynamics, Elbit Systems, and Lockheed Martin.

And Weber is, as one might predict, making the case to remain in Afghanistan, and to escalate our troop levels there to the full 40,000 requested:

If Obama opts for a compromise approach, and sends only 15,000-20,000 troops [as opposed to the 40,000 requested by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal], Weber says Republicans will accuse Obama of underfunding the war by yielding to the left. Weber suggested this might be the worst policy option on the table, as Obama is going to need the GOP to get his national security policies through Congress, in light of a significant number of liberal Democrats unwilling to support continued military action.

… if Obama should start pulling American troops out of Afghanistan in an effort to end the war, as many on the left and a growing number of critics on the right have suggested (e.g. Pat Buchanan, George Will), Weber says, “Things will go very bad, very quickly,” with the Taliban likely to take control of a nation that does not have a security force prepared to keep order across the vast nation.

Weber told The Hill [about the White House’s Lobbyist guidelines]:

“If the policy permits me to stay under certain circumstances, I will. If not, I will thank them for the opportunity to serve.”

Obviously, Mr. Weber, your HUGE conflict of interest has compromised your ability to perform you duties at the Pentagon in an honest and ethical manner, and it is disgraceful that you have been — and continue to be — permitted by the Obama Administration to help shape our country’s foreign policy.  Please gather up your belongings and exit the building at once!

And Mr. President, please honor your campaign pledge, and PURGE these corrupted lobbyists from your Administration and all Cabinet-level agencies.  Enough of the pussyfooting around, already!