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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Outrage of the Day: Obama's Hypocrisy on Lobbying

As a candidate for President, Barack Obama made attacking lobbyists one of the linchpins of his candidacy.

As President, though, he seems to be of two minds.

On the one hand, among other things that might loosely be described as "anti-lobbyist," he's issued a directive against lobbyist participation in the distribution of "stimulus" funds that's thought by some to be so draconian, the ACLU, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the American League of Lobbyists have, as Kenneth P. Vogel of Politico tells us, decided to protest it.*

On the other hand, he's given the high-profile position of "climate change czar" to former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, whose record leads many to suspect she believes that anti-lobbying laws are there to be broken.

As David Ridenour (full disclosure: my husband) of the National Center for Public Policy Research writes in Monday's Washington Times:
...Throughout her years as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration, EPA officials routinely violated the Anti-Lobbying Act - a law prohibiting federal employees from using agency money for "telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress."

In 1995, the EPA flagrantly violated that law when it lobbied against the Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act, a bill that would have curbed some of the EPA's worst abuses.

As James F. Hinchman, comptroller general of the United States, noted, EPA officials "distributed EPA fact sheets to various organizations ... directly lobbied the Congress." Not only that, but an EPA regional administrator wrote a strong Op-Ed designed to stop the bill's passage.

Four years later, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, accused the EPA of violating the Anti-Lobbying Act again. Mr. Byrd - who has made a career of steering pork to his state - complained that the EPA's Transportation Partners Program was coordinating and funding anti-road lobbyists against the law and his state's interests. Mrs. Browner was forced to terminate the program.

The following year Mrs. Browner was at it yet again. This time, her agency was accused of allowing special interests to improperly influence last-minute - so-called "midnight" - environmental regulations. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the EPA to preserve communications with such groups. Instead, Mrs. Browner had her computer hard drive re-initialized, wiping it clean. Judge Lamberth subsequently held the EPA in contempt for "contumacious conduct."...
Did President Obama stern admonish Carol Browner that behavior of this sort would not be tolerated in an Obama Administration (and, if so, why take the risk of appointing her at all?)? Or are rules against "outside" lobbyists the only ones Barack Obama wants enforced?


* Note: In my view, the new directive to supposedly limit lobbyist influence on spending of the so-called stimulus won't mean much in the end. Businesses, unions, lobbying firms, lobbyist law firms, state and local governments and special interests wanting a piece of our tax dollars will simply lobby for it using personnel who are not required to register as a lobbyist under the terms of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (or, in some cases, people who are required to, but didn't). The only way to keep lobbyists from going after federal money is to shrink the pot of federal money available as government-distributed handouts (for instance, by leaving it in the hands of those who earned it in the first place).

Hat tip: I learned about the ACLU's position on the new lobbying directive from the Don Irvine Blog.

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Posted by Amy Ridenour at 11:33 PM

Copyright The National Center for Public Policy Research