After Obama rips lobbyists, K Street insiders get private policy briefings

A day after bashing lobbyists, President Barack Obama’s administration has invited K Street insiders to join private briefings on a range of topics addressed in Wednesday’s State of the Union.
 
The Treasury Department on Thursday morning invited selected individuals to “a series of conference calls with senior Obama administration officials to discuss key aspects of the State of the Union address.”

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The invitation, which went to a variety of stakeholders, was sent by Fred Baldassaro, a senior adviser at the Treasury Department’s Office of Business Affairs and Public Liaison.

The invitation stated, “The White House is encouraging you to participate in these calls and will have a question and answer session at the end of each call. As a reminder, these calls are not intended for press purposes.”

The calls are scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, with the first topic being job creation and economic growth.

Another call, at 1 p.m., is on government reform and transparency. Republicans have criticized the Obama White House for not being more transparent in its discussions with Congress on healthcare reform. Obama recently acknowledged that the legislative process has not been as open as he promised on the campaign trail.

Other issues that will be addressed on Thursday include education, climate change and healthcare reform.

A handful of lobbyists told The Hill on Thursday morning that they received the invitations and were planning to call in.

Some lobbyists say they are extremely frustrated with the White House for criticizing them and then seeking their feedback. Others note that Democrats on Capitol Hill constantly urge them to make political donations.
 
One lobbyist said, “Bash lobbyists, then reach out to us. Bash lobbyists [while] I have received four Democratic invitations for fundraisers.”
 
In his State of the Union on Wednesday, Obama once again targeted K Street: “We face a deficit of trust — deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.  To close that credibility gap, we have to take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; to give our people the government they deserve.”
 
The Treasury Department referred The Hill’s request for comment to the White House, which at press time had not responded to questions on this issue.

On Thursday afternoon, White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated in an e-mail, "As part of our effort to reach out and engage with the public and policymakers, it is standard for our outreach team to organize a conference call, so that we can include people who are not in Washington, after a major speech or announcement through the president's priorities. These calls are targeted at a diverse group of community and government leaders including mayors, governors, faith groups, women's organizations, representatives from the African American and Latino communities to share as much information about the administration's agenda as possible. The calls, which include question-and-answer sessions, typically include hundreds of people from across the country..."

Lobbyists say the Obama White House has held many off-the-record teleconferences over the past year.
 
For example, lobbyists and others were invited to a teleconference with “senior Obama administration officials” on Monday to discuss the administration’s plan to improve the lives of middle-class families.
 
The invitation, which is addressed to “Friends,” emphasizes in bold and italics that “this call is for background information only and not intended for press purposes.” It advises callers to tell the operator “you’re joining the ‘White House Briefing Call.’ ”
 
Another lobbyist said these types of teleconferences occur “all the time.”
 
And that is why many on K Street are exasperated with Obama’s use of lobbyists as a punching bag. Some have said they understood why he used strong rhetoric on the campaign trail but are irritated the White House solicits their opinions while Obama’s friends in Congress badger them for political donations.


This article was updated at 12:11 p.m. and at 4:50 p.m.