“I am running to tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over. They have not funded my campaign. They won’t work in my White House.”
That was candidate Obama. President Obama this week promoted former registered lobbyist Cecilia Muñoz to be director of the Domestic Policy Council.
She had been director of intergovernmental affairs at the White House. At the DPC, Muñoz replaces former registered K Street lobbyist Melody Barnes, who is “considering offers in the private sector,” but may or may not be returning to K Street.
Liberals say Muñoz doesn’t count as one of the bad lobbyists was rails against. “That’s weak sauce,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted at me yesterday. “She was a lobbyist for immigrant rights.”
Obama took this same line after falsely claiming in the State of the Union address, “we’ve excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs.” He had, in fact, hired 50 such lobbyists. When confronted on this, Obama said, “For example, a doctor who ran Tobacco-Free Kids technically is a registered lobbyist, on the other hand, has more expertise than anybody in figuring out how kids don’t get hooked on cigarettes. So there have been a couple of instances like that. …”
It’s not a totally unreasonable line: Obama was identifying corporate lobbyists, not non-profit issue lobbyists, as the bad guys, so an anti-smoking lobbyists or a “immigrant rights,” lobbyist is a different thing, even if he or she is registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
But if Obama makes that defense, he’s having it both ways, because he regularly counts as non-lobbyists people who really are corporate lobbyists, but they simply didn’t register as lobbyist. For instance, Google’s VP for global public policy and government affairs Andrew McLaughlin served in the White House working directly on policy affecting Google, but he hadn’t been registered as a Google lobbyist.
On Obama’s “ban” on lobbyist contributions, he walks the same line: accepting gifts from and employing as bundlers heads of lobbying firms and VPs of government affairs, but they’re not registered, so it’s fine.
According to Obama’s account, you don’t count as a lobbyist if you’re not registered, but even if you’re not registered, you might not count either. Maybe “lobbyist” just meant people with whom Obama disagrees.