Obama’s lobbying reform ain’t working

President Barack Obama’s new special interest rules are having unexpected consequences with some lobbyists giving up their formal registrations and finding other ways to influence policy as they try to maintain access to key agencies or hope for future government jobs.

Congressional aides, industry executives and watchdog groups say the rules have also slowed Obama’s ability to fill key government jobs, eliminated some highly qualified candidates and kept away some others who worry tougher “revolving door” rules could tie their hands in the future.

“The president’s executive order isn’t working the way they planned,” said one top Washington industry lobbyist, who asked not to be identified, given the sensitivity of the subject.

He said he personally knew of several companies and non-profit groups who had filed papers with Congress terminating the lobbyist status of people on their payrolls after realizing that they were being shut out.

Reading the rules narrowly, even he could deregister and leave the actual “lobbying” to others on his staff, said the lobbyist, but quickly added he had no intention to do that.

Obama’s January 21 executive order on ethics bans lobbyists from working in an agency they previously lobbied for two years, and bans any lobbying of high-level government officials for the rest of the administration if an appointee leaves.

The administration in May tightened rules that banned lobbyists from speaking with administration officials about specific economic stimulus projects, to include oral communication by anyone, not just lobbyists.

The White House maintains it has filled more jobs faster than any other administration in recent history and says that its efforts to pry loose the influence of special interests in Washington are starting to show results.

Norm Eisen, special council to the president for ethics and government reform, says the administration will continue to review lobbying rules and remains convinced that there is always more than one qualified candidate for any job.

“We’re going to keep working on those loopholes,” he said, although he declined to give any details about further plans.


The rules meant experts like John Douglass, former head of the Aerospace Industries Association and Margaret Seminario, occupational health and safety director of the labor giant AFL-CIO, could not be considered for top government jobs.

Douglass, a retired Air Force general and former Navy arms buyer, was a key adviser to Obama before he entered the White House but bears no grudges: “I do support what the president is trying to do in terms of getting the special interests in Washington under control, but it is an extremely difficult thing to do and sometimes has unintended consequences.”

The White House has granted a few waivers, including one for Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, a former lobbyist with Raytheon Co.

Pierre Sprey, a former Pentagon official, and Winslow Wheeler, a former long-time congressional aide, called Lynn “the defense industry’s secret weapon” in a recent article in Mother Jones magazine, and said he had sought to soften a defense acquisition reform law signed by Obama in May.

The controversy over Lynn has made officials even more careful about nominations going forward.


Meanwhile, OMBWatch and other nonpartisan groups have urged the White House to exempt public interest lobbyists from the job restrictions. Several groups, including the Open Society Policy Center, have deregistered lobbyists after concluding they never met the criteria for official registration.

“It’s severely restricted the talent pool that government can draw from,” said Lee Mason, director of nonprofit speech rights for OMBWatch.

Under federal law, individuals must register as lobbyists if they make two or more contacts with covered officials and spend more than 20 percent of their time trying to influence legislation. Those reports are due every six months.

Mason said moves by some lobbyists to cancel their registrations could undermine Obama’s intent, and underscored his longstanding concerns about existing lobbying rules.

“If lobbyists are deregistering for fear of being affected by the president’s order, it means less transparency about the policies that are being created,” Mason said.

In the past companies and groups registered anyone who could possibly be seen as a lobbyist, but the opposite was now true, said one former lobbyist.

As of June, there were 12,553 federal lobbyists registered, down from 14,800 at the end of 2008, and below a record 15,137 in 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Lobbyist termination data are elusive since the government does not keep a running count in its registration database.

The Center’s Dave Levinthal said registrations could rise before year-end and several factors could be contributing to the decline, including the sour economy, increasing deregistrations, and a shift into non-covered activities such as advertising and grassroots work, he said.

“There’s a great deal of stealth lobbying that takes place,” he said, noting that current law did not capture many activities that could be seen as lobbying, including efforts to influence federal policy by state and municipal authorities.


  1. gazelle1929

    On the contrary, it looks to me as though the efforts are working.

    President Obama cannot do anything about the lobbying in the Congress, but judging from the reports from the agencies most lobbyists seem to have given up trying to pander influence in the executive branch.

  2. gazelle1929

    One could start here:


    But since the two of you are convinced that everything Obama and the Government say are lies, you are not going to believe that it is possible that the lobbyist restrictions are working.

    Imagine the possibility that Government officials are telling the truth about contacts from lobbyists. You can read that between the lines when you see things like

    “Lobbyists initially were restricted to talking only about general policy matters and shut out of meetings on specific projects. So, they prepared their clients to meet with government workers.”

    What would you do? Tell the lobbyists that they cannot prep their clients on what to say and how to act when they went to a meeting? That’s sort of smacks of fascism, doncha know?

    “‘We’ve walked them to the meeting and back,’ said lobbyist Howard Marlowe, describing a mayor client he briefed and escorted to a government meeting.”

    And suddenly the clients discovered that they could find their own way to the meetings. They didn’t need a $500 per hour pathfinder. Oh, the horror of it all!

    “In some cases, lobbyists in separate disclosure reports required by Congress indicated work related to agency’s stimulus grants — work that wasn’t reflected in the agency reports. Lobbyists said some of those reports represented work they did on behalf of clients that fell short of actually contacting federal agencies.”

    Things like prepping clients? Walking them to their meetings? Holding their hands? Oh, no. That isn’t possible. The agencies are lying to the President and the President is lying to us. Gimme a break.

    “In one case, a lobbyist for Delphi Corp., a supplier of heating and cooling systems, attended a technical meeting with thermal experts from the company and technical staff at the Energy Department to talk up Delphi’s new technologies. She was told that as a lobbyist she could only listen while her colleagues talked, Delphi’s government relations director John Anderson said.”

    And then the Federal employee reported that there was no contact with the lobbyist, who was a fly on the wall and had no input?

    What would you do if you were a lobbyist and suddenly you had to limit your contact with the executive branch? Perhaps you would say to yourself, “Well, the pendulum has swung to the other side for a while. I am going to have to cut costs because I don’t have as many clients as I used to have. So I am letting ten percent of my staff go.”


    Fewer registered lobbyists.

    And as I said over on that other thread, Obama’s rules do NOT affect the Congress. The President does not have, repeat, DOES NOT HAVE, the authority to tell Congressional employees to report anything. So the lobbyists just go up on the Hill.

    And last time I checked, that’s exactly where Senator Baucus’s committee is.

  3. woody188

    You sure can write a lot without putting up any type of valid argument. Unsure why you would cite an article that proves our point.

    I save my faith for God. Government has to prove itself.