Remember in 2007 when then-Sen. Barack Obama vowed to crack down on lobbyist influences in Washington, D.C.?
“I have done more to take on lobbyists than any other candidate in this race,” Obama said. “I don’t take a dime of their money, and when I am president, they won’t find a job in my White House.”
As reported by other media outlets, and already noted by the left-leaning Politifact, the president broke his lobbyist rule a long time ago. However, thanks to a recent report from the Washington Post, we now have a better understanding of just how much the president has failed to curb lobbyist influences in the nation’s capital.
“The Post matched visits with lobbying registrations and connected records in the visitor database to show who participated in the meetings, information now available in a search engine on the Post’s web site,” T.W. Farnam writes.
“The visitor logs for Jan. 17 — one of the most recent days available — show that the lobbying industry Obama has vowed to constrain is a regular presence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave [emphasis added],” the report adds.
But more than the fact that lobbyists are a common presence in the White House (and nearby executive buildings) is the fact that those with personal connections inside the Obama administration — and there are many — enjoy easy, anytime access.
Again, we cannot stress enough that this is the same president who, more than any candidate before him, vowed to change the politics of D.C. with all that “Hopey-Changey” stuff.
“A lot of folks,” President Obama said in April, “see the amounts of money that are being spent and the special interests that dominate and the lobbyists that always have access, and they say to themselves, maybe I don’t count.”
But if the president believes this is what the people think, then why does it seem like lobbyists are a permanent fixture in his administration?
“The White House visitor records make it clear that Obama’s senior officials are granting…access to some of K Street’s most influential representatives,” Farnam writes.
“In many cases, those lobbyists have long-standing connections to the president or his aides. Republican lobbyists coming to visit are rare, while Democratic lobbyists are common, whether they are representing corporate clients or liberal causes,” the Post report adds.
Here are just a few of the lobbyists who’ve had frequent access to the White House:
Marshal Matz: A lobbyists whose clients include “the general counsel for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the chief executive of cereal maker General Mills and pro bono clients, including advocates for farmers in Africa,” according to the Post. This former unpaid adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign is reported to have visited the White House almost two dozen times in the past two-and-a-half years.
Bill Samuel: As a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, Samuel has visited the White House at least 50 times since the president’s inauguration. He met four times with former White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley and three times with Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, according to the Post.
Nancy Zirkin: Works as a lobbyist for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Laura Murphy: Murphy lobbies for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Tony Podesta: Brother to a former aide to the president, Podesta has visited the White House 27 times.
Robert Raben: This lobbyist who “represents many liberal causes” has visited the White House 47 times.
Tim Hannegan: Like Matz, Hannegan was also an “informal adviser” to the president’s 2008 campaign. His clients include Comcast and Taser International. He has logged in approximately 30 visits to the White House.
Tom Downey (former New York congressman): the spouse of President Obama’s former energy czar, Carol Browner, Downey lobbies for clients including Time Warner Cable and Herbalife. White House records show that he has visited at least 31 times.
And despite what appears to be a broken promise, the White House defends its admittance of lobbyists.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz praised the president’s “unparalleled commitment to reforming Washington,” adding that this is the first administration to release the visitor records. Of course, it needs to be pointed out that the White House did this “to settle a lawsuit seeking the records,” Farnam notes.
“Our goal has been to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington — which we’ve done more than any Administration in history,” Schultz added.
And to be fair, because previous administrations didn’t make their lists available, it’s impossible to tell whether the number of lobbyists allowed admittance to the White House has gone up or down since President Obama took office.
Still, if we recall correctly, the president during his 2008 presidential campaign didn’t promise to “dial back” or “moderate” lobbyist influences in Washington — he promised to put an end it. That clearly has not happened.
“The whole process was interesting for me. It’s a little scary,” said Andrew Menter, an executive who was able to score a White House meeting through Downey.
“You need a lobbyist to get a meeting,” Menter added.