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Obama Versus "The Lobbyists"

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It's no secret that President Obama has made lobbyists one of his favorite punching bags. Recently, he announced unprecedented restrictions on contacts between his administration staff and lobbyists. If they want to talk to each other about the $787 billion economic stimulus package, they have to do it in writing, which then will be posted on the web. And if they want to meet in person, that meeting will be on the Internet too. The move will ensure "lobbyists do not stand in the way of our recovery," he said. See my story here.

But did you know that while Obama has been railing against lobbyists, he has been hiring lobbyists too. In this week's issue of my magazine, National Journal, we found that 11 percent of Obama's 267 senior staff and nominees, were registered lobbyists in the past five years. See story and chart of the individual staff members.

Who are we talking about? Attorney General Eric Holder. He was a registered lobbyist for Covington & Burling; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He was a lobbyist for the National Education Association. Vice President Biden's chief of staff Ron Klain. He was a lobbyist for O'Melveny & Meyers and deputy secretary of the Interior David Hayes. He was a lobbyist for Latham & Watkins.

Is that hypocritical? Well, though Obama did say in 2007 that "no lobbyists" would get a job in his White House, he later softened his rhetoric during 2008 to say that lobbyists "won't rule" his administration. An administration source told me earlier this year that Obama "hadn't meant" that he would hire zero lobbyists, and hence the back tracking. The fact is that Obama had to soften his rhetoric. He had to dip into the pool of DC's 14,000 registered lobbyists to find experienced staff.

My magazine, because we are based inside the Beltway, has reported on how the lobbyists in DC are feeling about Obama and these new rules. Unsurprisingly, many are not happy with the change, but what really rankles is that there are thousands of additional individuals who wield influence and don't meet the legal definition of a "lobbyist." Though these "strategists" are just as much a part of the lobbying establishment, they don't have the same stigma as registered lobbyists. For example, Leon Panetta, Obama's pick for the CIA, earned more than $1 million in 2008 as a corporate consultant and guest speaker as an advisor to PR firm Fleishman-Hillard, a firm that is deeply involved in lobbying campaigns in DC.

Political insiders therefore, don't think Obama's rules are going to curb the influence of "special interests." Take a look at our story.

We have more stories on lobbying in National Journal which is a subscription only publication. If you are interested in getting access, send us an email at undertheinfluence@nationaljournal.com. Meanwhile, check out our blog on lobbying: http://undertheinfluence.nationaljournal.com.