President Obama's Prudent Distinction Between Lobbyist Experts and Special Interests

PolitiFact Rates the President as Having Broken His Campaign Promise on Limiting the Power of Lobbyists, but it Ignores the Big Picture. Anyone Can See It

PolitiFact | Tougher rules against revolving door for lobbyists and former officials - Obama promise No. 240:: "Obama was very clear with his promise. He said no lobbyists would 'work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years.' No means none. Promise Broken."

There it is, the verdict on what PolitiFact rates the most controversial of its verdicts. Why so?

Because there were reasons behind the President's admittedly confusing reliance on former lobbyists to help achieve some of his agenda.

Lobbyists are not all special interests. Some have vital savvy on issues that are really about the people's business.

Here are some complementary elements of this story that are generally ignored.

Ethics Update | The White House: "Because the rules are so stringent, it is important to have reasonable exceptions in case of exigency or when the public interest so demands. That is why the Order provides that a waiver of the restrictions may be granted when it is determined '(i) that the literal application of the restriction is inconsistent with the purposes of the restriction, or (ii) that it is in the public interest to grant the waiver.' Sec. 3(a). The Order goes on to explain that the 'public interest' may include, but is not limited to, exigent circumstances relating to national security or to the economy and that de minimis contact with an executive agency shall also be cause for a waiver. Sec. 3(b). As we discuss below, this provision was intended to be used sparingly, and has been so used."

This explanation is buttressed considerably by other elements of the argument. See the full Ethics Update for details. And read the following.

DAEOgrams -- DO-09-008 -- February 23, 2009-- Authorizations Pursuant to Section 3 of Executive Order 13490, "Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel": "It is the President's intention that waivers will be granted sparingly and that their scope will be as limited as possible. All waivers must be in writing."


The most salient argument that the President has indeed been vigilant in dealing with the lobbyist issue is precisely that he did provide exemptions from the start. The issue was never to see the lobbyists as a pariah class, but to limit the power of special interests.

By creating the strictest rule ever, and allowing a few crucial exemptions, the President more than kept his promise.


If more proof is needed, note that the President has not hesitated to continue faulting the influence of special interest lobbyists. If anything, the President's attack has become sharper in the face of massive special interest activity in the current campaign where anonymous money is flowing to the GOP and attack ads are wall to wall, serving the very interests that are also lobbied to death on Capitol Hill.

The President had two choices - a stringent rule with careful exceptions or more of the same porous access. He chose stringency and depended on the intelligence of observers to see that to every rule there is an exception and that the proof lies in intent and execution not in knee jerk adherence when it makes no sense.

It was and is, after all, the President's Rule. And it has not changed.

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