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Larry Ottinger

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Could Newt Gingrich Work for the Obama Administration?

Posted: 12/05/11 05:12 PM ET

Yes he could.

Newt Gingrich told Fox News that he simply gave historical and "strategic advice" to Freddie Mac in exchange for about $1.6 million and that he has "never done lobbying of any kind." Accordingly, he hasn't registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) and would be eligible to work for the Obama Administration, which made the well intended but fundamentally flawed decision of using LDA registration to decide who could serve in senior executive positions (as well as on federal advisory commissions).

At the same time, guess who can't work for the Obama Administration? Long-time public-interest leaders like Caroline Smith DeWaal of Center for Science in the Public Interest, Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch and Pamela Gilbert, a consumer advocate formerly of Public Citizen. DeWaal, Malinowski and Gilbert were excluded from top Administration posts related to food safety, human rights and consumer products, respectively, because they were registered under the LDA (in Ms. DeWaal's case unnecessarily registered out of an abundance of caution but still excluded).

In a recently released report entitled "Collateral Damage: How the Obama Administration's Ethics Restrictions on Public Service Have Harmed Nonprofit Advocacy and the Public Interest," leading nonprofit advocates describe the Administration's public service restrictions as misguided and counterproductive.

The New York Times recently published a Letter to the Editor by the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest (CLPI) that summarizes the problem with the restrictions (which some are poised to make even worse) as well as the solution.

While many of President Obama's ethics efforts have been justifiably praised, his restrictions on registered lobbyists have done little to curb special-interest influence while actually harming public-interest advocacy and good government. A recent survey report of more than 60 of the nation's leading nonprofit advocates from consumer, environmental, human rights and other areas found that lobbyist restrictions on public service have been counterproductive. Charitable advocacy has been chilled, and policy experts have been denied top government positions. At the same time, most business executives and their highly paid advisers are not covered at all. This only worsens public cynicism about government. The administration and others need to focus on financial conflicts of interest - not lobbyist registration - and on real campaign finance reform to address the systemic problem of money in politics.

CLPI and a wide range of public-interest colleagues are working now to get the Administration and Congress to do three things: 1) expand the LDA disclosure system to cover political insiders like former Speaker of the House Gingrich who get paid large sums to serve as business lobbying consultants and "strategic advisers;" 2) stop using LDA registration to restrict public service; and 3) focus on real money in politics reforms.

Political reform is urgently needed, and it is critical that we get it right. We must restore public trust in government in order to -- as Dr. King said -- "make real the promise of democracy."

 

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