In one of the biggest stories you're not hearing trumpeted in the news this week, President Obama (through his White House ethics counsel) barred thousands of lobbyists (yes, thousands) from lobbying the federal government.
From The WaPo's "Lobbyists Barred from Lobbying Federal Agencies" (h/t DKos' calchala):
As calchala said, "Obama appears to be setting a very bright line for his administration and the difference between the administration (which he has power over) and Congress could not be more stark."
Hundreds, if not thousands, of lobbyists are likely to be ejected from federal advisory panels as part of a little-noticed initiative by the Obama administration to curb K Street's influence in Washington, according to White House officials and lobbying experts.
The new policy -- issued with little fanfare this fall by the White House ethics counsel -- may turn out to be the most far-reaching lobbying rule change so far from President Obama, who also has sought to restrict the ability of lobbyists to get jobs in his administration and to negotiate over stimulus contracts.
The initiative is aimed at a system of advisory committees so vast that federal officials don't have exact numbers for its size; the most recent estimates tally nearly 1,000 panels with total membership exceeding 60,000 people.
This is pretty huge. On this one, I have to say President Obama came through, and then some.
Jake Tapper wrote a good piece on the lobbyist's reaction, and the subsequent response from special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform Norm Eisen to their reaction:
Sixteen lobbyists who chair ITACs -- including executives from Boeing, Harley-Davidson, the International Association of Drilling Contractors, Fanwood Chemical Inc., IBM and others -- wrote to the president to protest the decision.The back & forth continues and I recommend clicking over to read Jake's full piece...
In another letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the lobbyists said that a "quick review of the impact of this new policy suggests that dozens of the most active -- and most knowledgeable -- Committee members who generate many of the documents needed by the Committee and our trade negotiators will be dismissed once the new charter term begins. This occurs because individuals who specialize in trade policy matters in their particular sectors often find that such specialization and expertise pushes them above the 20 percent lobbying activity threshold that triggers registration under the Lobbying Disclosure Act" or LDA.[snip]
Eisen wrote back on October 21.
"I assure you that our action was not provoked, as you suggest, by the 'criminal and unethical behavior of a few individuals,'" he wrote. "Indeed there have been some egregious abuses, but this decision was not meant to besmirch everyone who is a registered federal lobbyist. It's the system as a whole that concerns us. It's an indisputable fact that in recent years, lobbyists for major special interests have wielded extraordinary power in this town. The result has been a national agenda too often skewed in favor of the interests that can afford their services."
Eisen suggested that powerful industries are well represented in Washington, DC -- with banking lobbyists paid to "gut meaningful financial reforms," an "army" of health insurance industry lobbyists unleashed to "frustrate" health care reform efforts, oil and gas company lobbyists sent to undermine energy reform all present and accounted for. "But industry representatives shouldn't be given government positions from which to make their case," he wrote.
"While we recognize the contributions some of those who will be affected have made to these committees, it is an indisputable fact that in recent years, lobbyists for major special interests have wielded extraordinary power in Washington DC, resulting in a national agenda too often skewed in favor of the interests that can afford their services," Eisen said again in an October 21 blog post. "It is that problem that the President has promised to change, and this is a major step in implementing that change."