Saturday, June 26, 2010

How to get around Obama's pledges on lobbying - head to Caribou Coffee

That right-wing rag, the New York Times has a story about how the Obama administration is evading the appearance of working hand-in-glove with lobbyists by meeting with them outside the White House. That way the names of the lobbyists don't appear on the White House logs that the Obama administration so proudly makes public. They just meet across the street.
here are no Secret Service agents posted next to the barista and no presidential seal on the ceiling, but the Caribou Coffee across the street from the White House has become a favorite meeting spot to conduct Obama administration business.

Here at the Caribou on Pennsylvania Avenue, and a few other nearby coffee shops, White House officials have met hundreds of times over the last 18 months with prominent K Street lobbyists — members of the same industry that President Obama has derided for what he calls its “outsized influence” in the capital.

On the agenda over espressos and lattes, according to more than a dozen lobbyists and political operatives who have taken part in the sessions, have been front-burner issues like Wall Street regulation, health care rules, federal stimulus money, energy policy and climate control — and their impact on the lobbyists’ corporate clients.

But because the discussions are not taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they are not subject to disclosure on the visitors’ log that the White House releases as part of its pledge to be the “most transparent presidential administration in history.”

The off-site meetings, lobbyists say, reveal a disconnect between the Obama administration’s public rhetoric — with Mr. Obama himself frequently thrashing big industries’ “battalions” of lobbyists as enemies of reform — and the administration’s continuing, private dealings with them.
The administration is caught between the President's rhetoric and the reality of how things get done in Washington.
Rich Gold, a prominent Democratic lobbyist who has taken part in a number of meetings at Caribou Coffee, said that White House staff members “want to follow the president’s guidance of reducing the influence of special interests, and yet they have to do their job and have the best information available to them to make decisions.”

Mr. Gold added that the administration’s policy of posting all White House visits, combined with pressure to not be seen as meeting too frequently with lobbyists, leave staff members “betwixt and between.”

....David Wenhold, president of the American League of Lobbyists, based in Washington, said the current “cold war” relationship between the White House and K Street lobbyists was one of mutual necessity, with the White House relying on lobbyists’ expertise and connections to help shape federal policies.

“You can’t close the door all the way because you still need to have these communications,” Mr. Wenhold said. “It makes a great sound bite for the White House to demonize us lobbyists, but at the end of the day, they’re still going to call us.”
And these meetings at nearby coffee houses are not the only way that the administration is doing one thing while vaingloriously promising that they're different.
Attempts to put distance between the White House and lobbyists are not limited to meetings. Some lobbyists say that they routinely get e-mail messages from White House staff members’ personal accounts rather than from their official White House accounts, which can become subject to public review. Administration officials said there were some permissible exceptions to a federal law requiring staff members to use their official accounts and retain the correspondence.

And while Mr. Obama has imposed restrictions on hiring lobbyists for government posts, the administration has used waivers and recusals more than two dozen times to appoint lobbyists to political positions. Two lobbyists also cited instances in which the White House had suggested that a job candidate be “deregistered” as a lobbyist in Senate records to avoid violating the administration’s hiring restrictions.
Oh, dear. What if the Bush administration had been caught doing that?

And here's another way to avoid the appearance of coziness with lobbyists - meet on the street.
One lobbyist recounted meeting with White House officials on a side lawn outside the building to introduce them to the chief executive of a major foreign corporation.
Notice how the anonymous quotes come from the lobbyists who must be wryly amused at being demonized by the President while his aides rush out to the street and to coffee joins to chug down lattes while talking up a storm with the very lobbyists who aren't supposed to be having influence on this administration. Yeah, right. Never believe a politician who tries to spin that yarn. They all meet with special interests. Some are just more self-righteous about it than others.

(Link via Timothy P. Carney)