- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama declared that, “lobbyists won’t find a job in my White House.” Now President Obama takes a different view of lobbyists.

The Senate is expected soon to approve anti-tobacco lobbyist William Corr for the second-highest post at the Department of Health and Human Services. He is the former executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and, until recently, a registered lobbyist.

The Obama team has said Mr. Corr will recuse himself from tobacco-related matters. Sure. Mr. Corr’s former group received $3.3 million over the past five years from pharmaceutical companies, according to the Wall Street Journal. Some of those firms profit from nicotine gum, patches and other smoking-cessation aids.

The Obama administration asks its appointees to sign a pledge not to work on issues for which they lobbied in the previous two years. It will be hard for Mr. Corr to abide by such restrictions as deputy secretary of HHS, which has a broad scope. The Food and Drug Administration, which is part of HHS, regulates pharmaceuticals. A bill approved by the House and awaiting Senate action would give the FDA power to regulate tobacco as a drug. Medicare and Medicaid pays for prescription drugs, a simple fact which brings the federal bureaucracy into many health care decisions.

Mr. Corr is not alone in Mr. Obama’s circle of lobbyists. Thirty of 267 senior administration officials, about 11 percent of the president’s top staff, had lobbied within the past five years, according to National Journal. The list includes Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Chuck Hurley to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, who lobbied for defense industry giant Raytheon; and Treasury chief of staff Mark Patterson, who represented Goldman Sachs’ interests.

At the White House, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Director Cecilia Munoz lobbied for the National Council of La Raza; Office of Political Affairs Director Patricia Gaspard is a former Service Employees International Union lobbyist; and Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon is a former lobbyist for Fannie Mae.

At the White House, Office of Intergovernmetnal Affairs Director Cecilia Munoz lobbied for the National Council of La Raza; Office of Political Affairs Director Patricia Gaspard is a former Service Employees International Union lobbyist; and Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon is a former lobbyist for Fannie Mae.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with former lobbyists serving the president. Their expertise can be useful in developing effective public policy, and the president should be free to pick his team.

Still, we wonder what happened in the past few short months to dramatically improve Mr. Obama’s view of lobbbyists.

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