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Ruth Marcus
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Sunday 11 March 2012
“Lobbyists are people who know how to get things done in Washington — hard things, because the easy ones don‘t require an arsenal of lobbyists on fat retainers.”

Obama’s Sin is not Hypocrisy, but Naivete

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Steve Ricchetti is a once and, no doubt, future lobbyist. So it was inevitable that Vice President Biden’s decision to hire Ricchetti as a senior adviser would prompt howls about Obama administration hypocrisy.

After all, it had pledged to keep lobbyists out of its White House, and now it was bringing in one of the city’s top you-know-what’s. Make that former you-know-what’s: Ricchetti, cleansing himself of the supposed sin of lobbying, had dropped his lobbyist registration shortly before the start of the Obama administration — though he remained head of the, yes, lobbying firm he founded with his lobbyist brother.

As my colleague Dana Milbank tartly noted, “Only in today’s Washington could a president circumvent his own ban on hiring lobbyists by hiring the head of a lobbying firm.”

Nice line.

But maybe the real problem of the Obama White House is not that it has too many lobbyists. Maybe the real problem is that it has had too few. Maybe if the Obama administration had had more Ricchettis from the start, it would have had fewer problems.

After all, lobbyists are people who know how to get things done in Washington — hard things, because the easy ones don’t require an arsenal of lobbyists on fat retainers.

President Obama’s self-imposed ban on lobbyists delivered on a campaign pledge adopted in the aftermath of the seamy Jack Abramoff scandal. As I wrote at the time, “The ugly excesses and outright criminality . . . argue for this cleansing of a corrupt system. The new rules serve, as Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote of Hester Prynne wearing her letter, as ‘a living sermon against sin.’ ”

But as with Hawthorne’s scarlet letter, the community is complicit in the sins it purports to scorn. Lobbyists are the symptom of a broken system, not its cause.

Despite the popular image of the lobbyist as a martini-swilling glad-hander dispensing bags of campaign cash, most lobbyists I know would be delighted to get off the relentless fundraising treadmill.

The Ricchettis of the world — most of them, anyway — don’t go into government to bump up their eventual private-sector paychecks, or to help out their private-sector clients. They go into government because it’s more rewarding, in the nonmonetary sense, than lobbying. The lobbying work is what they do to be able to afford the public-sector stints.

I’m not arguing that lobbyists are candidates for sainthood — just that they are not the demons of popular, and Obama campaign, imagination.

Meanwhile, Obama’s anti-lobbyist edict was inherently flawed: simultaneously too narrow, too broad and too porous.

The rules were too narrow in the sense that they applied only to registered lobbyists, a technical distinction that bears little relation to real-world understanding. Thus former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, Obama’s initial choice to be secretary of health and human services, did not run afoul of the rule because he was a “policy adviser,” not a lobbyist.

More fundamentally, the rules failed to distinguish between lobbyists and others with equal, if not greater, potential conflicts. What sense is there in a rule that would disqualify a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry but not the CEO of a drug company?

At the same time, the rules were too broad in that they allowed for no distinction among lobbyists, equally disqualifying a lobbyist for an environmental group and the lobbyist for the coal industry.

And they were too porous: The administration gave itself the wiggle room to grant waivers, which guaranteed that it would be accused of hypocrisy when, for example, it allowed an exemption to let the top lobbyist for a major defense contractor become deputy defense secretary.

The blowback on that one made the White House reluctant to approve additional waivers, which ended up disqualifying consumer advocates from consumer safety posts and human rights lobbyists from positions at the State Department. That’s not upholding ethical standards — it’s shooting yourself in the foot.

Lobbyists “have not funded my campaign, they will not run my White House and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I’m president,” then-candidate Obama piously proclaimed.

So when the Republican National Committee uses those words from Obama 2008 to ding Obama 2012, it has a point. But the administration’s real sin isn’t being hypocritical. It’s being naive about how Washington works and elevating ethical style over substance.

© , Washington Post Writers Group

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ABOUT Ruth Marcus

Ruth Marcus is a columnist and editorial writer for The Post, specializing in American politics and domestic policy. Marcus has been with The Post since 1984. She joined the national staff in 1986, covering campaign finance, the Justice Department, the Supreme Court and the White House. From 1999 through 2002, she served as deputy national editor, supervising reporters who covered money and politics, Congress, the Supreme Court, and other national issues. She joined the editorial board in 2003 and began writing a regular column in 2006. A graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School, she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007. She lives in Maryland with her husband, Jon Leibowitx, their two daughters, and the world’s cutest dog.

Lots of talk, but little of

Lots of talk, but little of solutions. Washington was built because our representatives needed a place to discuss, argue, and make laws. Technology has now made it possible to do that at a distance. Why not shut down Washington, give our reps a phone, fax and Internet connection and leave them home to rely on their local experts for vetting proposed laws. Such a move would also remove a terrorist target.

Naivete it maybe or perhaps

Naivete it maybe or perhaps just gross stupidity, the inability to separate cause from effect, that causes he and the other ‘Over Educated Stupid’ to believe in Marxism and the New World Order where the elite rule the world under business-political fascism and the American Middle Class is reduced to a third world level.

This is thoughtful, and I

This is thoughtful, and I basically agree with your analysis. I do believe the most mischief the lobbyists do relates to their ability, as paid insiders, to write legislation (and regulations) and present them to Congress, to state governments, and to regulators like the SEC, FDA, FCC, etc., without the necessary vetting. With their laws and regulations pre-written, the bureaucrats don't have to do much, and the lobbying powers get exactly what they want. This allows the focus and priorities of the laws and regulations that are passed to be controlled by the people paying the lobbyists. There's a kind of free-market logic to this situation, but until it's addressed-- until we stop letting regulations that control an industry be written by the paid representatives of that very industry-- then we won't have effective laws.

Your point that the insiders are the ones in the know, and hence the ones who should be consulted, is well taken. But someone has to answer when the lobbyists for Fox & Co. write the nation's henhouse rules.

Ruth, you have a point...did


you have a point...did you send a letter to the president offering help in making this distinctions since as you said he was naive...maybe with an adviser on lobbying like you, we could be ahead in our pursuits by now.
I would offer myself but I do not have the credentials you have..
Lobbyist are not needed, what we need is the truth and ethical citizen group who are well aware of the corruption of the system.

Modern Nihilism is on the opposite pole of reverence for life. It has reverence for nothing except of its own anti-value, of power, public relations, lies, short term profit.
Nihilistic rhetoric is replete with the choicest, altruistic, patriotic, moralistic terminology... (Franck)...can you write about that?

The fundamental problem with

The fundamental problem with lobbyists, is that our elected officials are SUPPOSED to "lobby" on behalf of their constituents, and those representing us kinda forget that part.

This is one of the most eye

This is one of the most eye popping panderings I have ever read..."...lobbyists'... don’t go into government to bump up their eventual private-sector paychecks, or to help out their private-sector clients. They go into government because it’s more rewarding, in the nonmonetary sense, than lobbying."

So...I'm in the midst of the very power of the planet, seeing, hearing and weilding hundreds of billions of potential dollars, swaying entire world economies, making 150k or so, and the whirled of lobbying STARTS at 500k plus many, many bennies, and I'm in it because I want to serve the people?

WOW...pssssst, great phamaceuticals...ey?

on second thought, the truth is that I am personally insulted that an individual with a Yale/Harvard/Washington Post pedigree, would even consider the attempt to filch off drivel like the above!!

She is no different than many

She is no different than many people who go to Ivy League schools and want to appear as an economic or social critic but just cannot bring themselves to see the culture that blinds them to economic realities.

Of course "going into government" is more rewarding than lobbying. But not in the non-monetary sense about which Ms. Marcus speaks. It is more rewarding because after a couple of years they go right back to or join lobbying groups to take advantage of their connections and write legislation that is sold as benefitting taxpayers but only benefits corporations and Wall Street.

Look at the Wall Street bailout legislation and the swinging door between Washington, Wall Street, and the White House. And tell me again these people only want to go into government because it is in the nonmentary sense more rewarding than lobbying. And I will tell you, Ms. Marcus, you are living in another world. Not only that, your bias is showing.

What is so special about these people who go into lobbying so they can "afford public sector stints"? Is it their money that make them so special or the fact that they went to Ivy League schools?

Considering the financial situation of the government today, we need fewer of these people who are so gracious to take less money to be a public servant and more respect for those who work already as public servants and are marginalized by the lobbyists who write the laws and feather their own nests.

Credentials do not a democratic government make. If it did, we wouldn't be in the trouble we're in today.

Do you suppose there are

Do you suppose there are people in government who work for the betterment of the planet?

of course...

of course...

Lobbying is all about money.

Lobbying is all about money. Washington is all about money. Republicans wanting to get back into the Presidency is all about money. We need a President and a Congress that will tax the Rich. The middle class have carried the tax burden long enough. And now that the rich are abandoning the lower middle class and the working man, we need to get back to the good old days. Our existing tax code has only 6 brackets. This is way to low, considering we used to have 33 to 55 tax brackets in the 1930's,40's,50's,60's,70's, and early 80's. A major cause of the Great Depression was income inequality. President Coolidge and his Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon cut taxes across the board from 56 brackets from 4% to 73%, down to 23 brackets and a top marginal rate of only 25%. This lasted from 1925 through 1931, and was a major cause of the Great Depression. People living in poverty was approx. 50%. We can't have 1% of the country owning 1/2 of the country. I say "Tax EM Like 1938". In 1932 the government saw their mistake in trying to give the rich all these tax brakes, and raised the brackets back up to 55, and a top marginal rate of 63% for income over $16.3Million. If our President could convince Congress to raise the brackets and the top marginal rate to anything approaching the 1930's, we would be on our way out of the Great Recession in no time at all. The country could pay down the deficit, pay down our debt to China and other countries we have borrowed from. This simple getting back to basics would pay down the Nation Debt, and create a lot of jobs in infrastructure, science, space, teaching, and much more. God Bless the 99%.

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