- Posted May 21, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
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.