After four years out in the cold, lobbyists are heading back to the White House. Politico reports that the Obama administration plans to reverse part of a 2010 policy prohibiting registered lobbyists from serving in government positions. Lobbyists will now be able to serve on policy-making boards and commissions in a “representative” capacity—i.e. as agents of their employers—but not as private citizens or representatives of the government. The policy reversal comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed by a group of lobbyists alleging that the ban violated their constitutional rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declined to dismiss the lawsuit earlier this year and remanded the case to a lower court. Charles Rothfeld, one of the attorneys representing the lobbyists, told Politico that he considered the administration’s about-face a victory for his clients. Government transparency advocates, however, are less pleased: “It really shows OMB backpedaling on Obama’s policies dealing with ethics and lobbying activity,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the government watchdog group Public Citizen. Holman said that while the panels were designed to give corporations and unions a voice in policymaking, lobbyists simply tended to use their role to benefit themselves. “What registered lobbyists tended to gain out of this was primarily that they could really boast about their special access to government officials and tout that on their résumés—and up their fees,” Holman said. During his first presidential campaign, Obama pledged to keep lobbyists out of the White House, telling an Iowa crowd in 2007, “their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.”
Ethan Corey is a writer and researcher based in New York. His work has appeared in The Nation, Rolling Stone and MEL magazine.