WITH THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION’S clock reading less than two years left in office and the next round of presidential campaigns kicking off, some have started to look at which of the current administration’s policies will carry over into the next. In Sunday’s Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin explored the legacy of Obama’s stand against the lobbying industry.
On his second day in office President Obama signed two executive orders and three presidential directives which set restrictions on lobbying, According to the Washington Post article, “the rules have had a major effect on how government functions. The measure prohibits those who have been registered lobbyists in the past two years from working at an agency they had lobbied, or on an issue they had worked on, and bars appointees from accepting gifts from registered lobbyists or lobbying groups while serving in government. It also prohibits administration appointees who later register from lobbying other executive branch officials or senior appointees for the remainder of Obama’s time in office.”
With these actions President Obama aimed at closing “the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely and lets them use their time in public service as a way to promote their own interests . . . when they leave.” However, the President’s actions did have some unintended consequences for the lobbying industry. “Some lobbyists — who under federal law are required to register only if they spend at least 20 percent of their time lobbying — chose to deregister once the rules took effect. The number of registrations dropped from 13,367 when Obama took office to 11,509 last year, according to an analysis by American University government professor James Thurber.”
Industry officials, such as James Hickey, president of the Association of Government Relations Professionals, have often questioned the logic and wisdom of the ban on lobbyists returning to government service as lobbyists can be some of Washington’s most experienced and knowledgeable professionals. Hickey argues, “Way back when the Oklahoma gold rush took off, there were a lot of people who realized they needed trail guides to the Rockies. A lot of those who didn’t use trail guides . . . expired in the Rockies. To a certain extent, the government relations professionals are trail guides.”
The next administration, regardless of party, will face the difficult predicament of deciding to take comparable actions either by adopting President Obama’s lobbying industry policies or creating their own similar policies, or deciding to reverse the executive order. However, the deck seems stacked. Former White House counsel Robert Bauer argues, “Any administration now is going to have to implement a similar policy or explain why it won’t, or explain what changes they will make. It puts on the table an issue that every administration has to grapple with.” Vin Weber, a senior Republican strategist expressed similar thoughts on the issue saying, “if I were asked by a presidential campaign, I’m not at all sure I would tell them to reverse the executive order. Not because the rule’s good, but because it’s an enormously politically difficult thing to explain.”