White House opens door to big donors and lobbyists come along for the ride
Remember that early Barack Obama pledge to ban lobbyists from roles in his administration? Remember the promise of transparency? Remember the decrying of the role of special interests?
As we now know those were "just words" that were campaign fodder for Barack Obama and were thrown under the bus after the election. Waivers were granted to allow lobbyists to serve as key officials in the administration, often linked to the spending of taxpayer dollars. The transparency pledge was avoided by such stunts as having lobbyists meet with White House officials across the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at a coffeehouse so their names would not appear on White House visitor logs. Now comes further revelations that Obama has extended the welcome mat to lobbyists and their powerful special interest clients.
Mike McIntire and Michael Luo write in the New York Times that big donors often have visited the White House and bring along lobbyists with them:
Although Mr. Obama has made a point of not accepting contributions from registered lobbyists, a review of campaign donations and White House visitor logs shows that special interests have had little trouble making themselves heard. Many of the president's biggest donors, while not lobbyists, took lobbyists with them to the White House, while others performed essentially the same function on their visits.
Patrick Kennedy (former representative from Rhode Island and a member of the legendary political dynasty) donated $35,800 to an Obama re-election fund while seeking support for a non-profit venture, saying contributions were simply a part of "how this business works" and "if you want to call it 'quid pro quo' fine". Sometimes donors are invited to social events but these donors can be lobbyists and business can be accomplished at these parties or at other times.
But in addition to social events, business is also carried out in the White House and its executive offices. The logs suggest some Obama fund-raisers and donors have been trafficking in ties they forged to the administration, helping clients get a seat at the table.
When Los Angeles officials wanted White House backing for a program that would speed up local transit projects, they turned last spring to a California political operative, Kerman Maddox, a top Obama fund-raiser and party donor. "We thought he could help our outreach in Washington," said Richard Leahy, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
In an internal memo justifying Mr. Maddox's hiring, the authority wrote that he had "direct access to the Executive Oval Office" and cited his position on the Obama campaign's National Finance Committee. Mr. Maddox's company Web site prominently features photographs of him with the Obamas.
One day after the authority signed off on his contract, Mr. Maddox made a $10,000 donation to the Obama re-election effort; he donated an additional $6,000 in June. In August, Mr. Maddox landed a meeting for himself and the authority officials with Melody Barnes, then director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, one of several meetings the officials were able to get.
Nor are donations to Obama the only way wealthy players in Washington can get access and curry favor in the White House. Valerie Jarrett -- Obama's closest adviser for years -- has a cousin (Antoinette Bush) who is a well-connected Washington lawyer representing entertainment companies concerned about piracy.
The New York Times writes:
Last May, as a battle was heating up between Internet companies and Hollywood over how to stop online piracy, a top entertainment industry lobbyist landed a meeting at the White House with one of President Obama's technology advisers.
The lobbyist did not get there by himself.
He was accompanied by Antoinette C. Bush, a well-connected Washington lawyer who has represented companies like Viacom, Sony and News Corporation for 30 years. A friend of the president and a cousin of his close aide Valerie B. Jarrett, Ms. Bush has been to the White House at least nine times during his term, taking lobbyists along on a few occasions, joining an invitation-only forum about intellectual property, and making social visits with influential friends.
At the same time, she and her husband, Dwight, have donated heavily to the president's re-election effort: Mr. Bush gave $35,800 on the day of his wife's White House meeting last year, and Ms. Bush contributed the same amount a month later. In November, they hosted a $17,900-a-plate fund-raiser at their home, where Mr. Obama complained that the nation's capital should be more "responsive to the needs of people, not the needs of special interests."
So goes Hope and Change.