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    Posted May 21, 2012 by
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    Lobbyists Continue to Be Frequent White House Visitors


    The  promise in 2008 from then Senator Barack Obama and later after moving  into the White House as President was that the skids would be put on  lobbyists and the influence peddlers on the new Administration. The  President pledged to change the way government operates and was cozy  with K Street.

    The Washington Post,  however, has found that lobbyists visiting and meeting with the  powers-that-be in the White House and the West Wing are still going  strong based on visitor logs.

    It  was an unremarkable January day, with a steady stream of lobbyists  among the thousands of daily visitors to the White House and the  surrounding executive office buildings, according to a Washington Post  analysis of visitor logs released by the administration. The Post  matched visits with lobbying registrations and connected records in the  visitor database to show who participated in the meetings, information  now available in a search engine on the Post’s web site.

    The  visitor logs for Jan. 17 — one of the most recent days available — show  that the lobbying industry Obama has vowed to constrain is a regular  presence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The records also suggest that  lobbyists with personal connections to the White House enjoy the easiest  access.

    More than any president before him, Obama pledged to  change the political culture that has fueled the influence of lobbyists.  He barred recent lobbyists from joining his administration and banned  them from advisory boards throughout the executive branch. The president  went so far as to forbid what had been staples of political interaction  — federal employees could no longer accept free admission to receptions  and conferences sponsored by lobbying groups.

    “A lot of folks,”  Obama said last month, “see the amounts of money that are being spent  and the special interests that dominate and the lobbyists that always  have access, and they say to themselves, maybe I don’t count.”

    The  White House visitor records make it clear that Obama’s senior officials  are granting that access to some of K Street’s most influential  representatives. In many cases, those lobbyists have long-standing  connections to the president or his aides. Republican lobbyists coming  to visit are rare, while Democratic lobbyists are common, whether they  are representing corporate clients or liberal causes.

    While  the Administration boasts its openess, it was a lawsuit that actually  brought about a more open look into comings and goings at the White  House.

    Acting  on a pledge to make government more transparent, Obama released the  visitor logs, although he did so to settle a lawsuit seeking the  records. The administration publishes the information monthly, with a  three-month delay, so the latest information is from January.

    The  lack of a list from previous administrations makes it impossible to  know whether paid advocates have more or less access than in the past.

    The  logs show the names of the roughly 2,600 people each day who are given a  badge to enter the White House, the Old Executive Office Building, the  New Executive Office Building or the vice president’s residence. The  visits can be for any purpose, from meetings, group tours and state  dinners to basketball with the president.

    Many of the lobbyists  who appear on the visitor logs are representing organizations that  support administration policies. Bill Samuel, lobbyist for the AFL-CIO,  for example, has been to the White House more than 50 times since Obama  took office. The logs show he met four times with former White House  Chief of Staff William M. Daley and three times with Gene Sperling,  director of the National Economic Council.

    “We’re not dealing  with any state secrets here,” Samuel said, noting that his organization  has worked closely with the White House to persuade lawmakers to pass  job-boosting legislation.

    Other White House allies have visited  almost as often, including Nancy Zirkin, a lobbyist for the Leadership  Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Laura Murphy, who represents  the American Civil Liberties Union.

    “The administration’s stance  on lobbying may be a great applause line for people outside the Beltway  but there are people here in D.C. who are lobbying on behalf of a  multitude of worthy causes,” Murphy said.

    Tony Podesta, brother  of former Obama aide John D. Podesta, has visited 27 times. And Robert  Raben, who represents many liberal causes, has been 47 times.

    But  lesser-known names are also among the frequent lobbyist visitors,  including Tim Hannegan, an informal adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign  with clients such as Comcast and Taser International. He has been to the  White House and executive buildings more than 30 times for social  events or meetings.

    In October, Hannegan gathered at the Old  Executive Office Building with the CEO and a lobbyist from his client  Kelly Services and aides in charge of the president’s jobs council.  Among other things, the group discussed a tax credit that Kelly, which  supplies temporary office staffers, was pushing to encourage companies  to hire unemployed veterans. Obama signed into law the credit, known as  the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, a month and a half later.

    James  McIntire, the Kelly Services lobbyist, noted the advantage of hiring  Hannegan, who is very familiar with the White House. “He was aware of  many of the administration’s ideas and then directionally where they  were heading,” McIntire said.

    Hannegan was also the top lobbyist  for a coalition of for-profit colleges, which successfully argued for  weaker regulations affecting their industry. The Washington Post Co.,  which owns Kaplan University, also lobbied on that issue.

    Among  the lobbyists with close ties to the White House is former New York  congressman Tom Downey, who is married to Carol Browner, until last year  Obama’s energy czar. Downey is the head of Downey McGrath Group, a  lobbying firm whose clients include Time Warner Cable and Herbalife,  which sells nutrition and dieting products. He has been to the White  House complex for meetings and events 31 times.


    From  the Cornfield, it is up to voters to make the decision on whether there  has been a change in the way government works in light of what the  Washington Post has discovered.

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