April 21, 2009
Coalition of nonprofit groups takes issue with "revolving door" ban on lobbyists entering government service; seeks exemption for charities and social welfare organizations' lobbyists
Though intended to protect the public interest, President Obama's exclusion of former lobbyists from certain government posts is screening out some registered lobbyists who share the Administration's vision of the public interest, as reported in Tuesday's The New York Times.
The "revolving door" ban on lobbyists entering government" (section 1(1) of Executive Order Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel) precludes anyone who was a registered lobbyist from working for any executive agency they had lobbied in the past two years. The ban is designed to screen out those who go through “the revolving door between government service and the private sector in order to achieve personal gain at the expense of the public interest." (Think of characters like Nick Naylor, the chief spokesman for Big Tobacco's chief spokesman and a "mass murderer/profiteer/bloodsucker/pimp" in the satirical novel and movie Thank You for Smoking.) But the ban also screens out some people who don't fit that profile. People like registered lobbyist Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
The article reports that a coalition of nonprofit groups, including the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest, has started a campaign to lift the ban for lobbyists for charities and social welfare organizations that (in the Center's words) "lobby for a public purpose rather than for a financial bottom line." According to this coalition, the ban on registered lobbyists is a crude proxy for the real culprit, lobbying by profit-maximizing people on behalf of profit-maximizing interests.
David Axelrod, President Obama's senior adviser, says this distinction is too subtle and the need to increase public trust in government is too great. The Times quotes him saying that “you can’t have carve-outs for lobbyists you like and exclude those that you don’t. It would be very hard for people to understand that distinction. This is one of those cases where we’ve had to sacrifice the help of a lot of very valuable people.”
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