Lobbyists slipping into Obama administration

Several former lobbyists are scattered throughout the Obama administration, despite the president’s efforts to slow the revolving door.

A review by The Hill of staff announcements for the White House and other departments in the administration found about two dozen people who have registered to lobby in the past, some as late as last year, according to lobbying disclosure records.

On his first day in office, President Obama issued an executive order that said political appointees could not participate in any issue area or work in any agency they had lobbied on in the past two years. It also forbade officials leaving the administration from lobbying the executive branch during the remainder of his time in office.

“During the campaign, then-Sen. Obama put forth the toughest ethics and lobbying reform policy in history, and now he is acting on that pledge to reduce the influence of lobbyists and special interests in Washington,” said Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman.

The stringent order has won plaudits from ethics watchdogs. “This is the first time this reverse revolving door has been tried by any administration. You have to give them credit for doing this,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center.

Yet some ex-lobbyists have found senior positions at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

For example, Emmett Beliveau is the White House’s director of advance, handling many of the logistics behind its big events. Beliveau also was the executive director for the presidential Inaugural committee.

But before joining the Obama campaign in 2007, Beliveau worked at Patton Boggs, K Street’s top firm in terms of annual revenue. He was registered to lobby for several clients there, including federal contractors ABT Associates and the Shaw Group.

Others with past lobbying ties have made it onto the staffs of Vice President Biden and first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson Obama'Car guy' Biden puts his spin on the presidency Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Son gives emotional tribute to Colin Powell at service MORE.

Biden’s senior aides include Tom Donilon, who registered to lobby last in 2005 for housing giant Fannie Mae, and Ron Klain, who was a lobbyist for the firm of O’Melveny & Myers that same year.

Jocelyn Frye, director of policy and projects for the first lady, was registered to lobby for the National Partnership for Women & Families last year as its general counsel. The first lady’s deputy chief of staff, David Medina, was a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO and worked for the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign in 2008.

Other aides who come most immediately from Congress have also worked as lobbyists. Now a member of the White House’s legislative affairs shop, Dan Turton was a lobbyist at Timmons and Company in 2006 before leaving to accept a position on the House Rules Committee. White House legislative liaison Sean Kennedy, who was Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Ex-Rep. Akin dies at 74 Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE’s (D-Mo.) chief of staff, had lobbied for AT&T in 2006.

McGehee said it is important to have people on staff who have Washington experience, and that often includes lobbyists.

“I do have concerns that some policy wonks could be eaten alive by Washington,” McGehee said. “I don’t think the numbers are at all outrageous. It is important to have people in Washington who understand Washington, and that includes lobbyists.”

Some appointments with past lobbying ties, however, have drawn criticism from lawmakers. William Lynn, the Defense Department’s deputy secretary, was registered to lobby for Raytheon, one of the nation’s biggest defense contractors, as late as 2008, which some deemed a conflict of interest.

But Lynn earned a waiver from the executive order for his past lobbying. White House aides argued he was uniquely qualified for the position. He has since been confirmed.

McGehee is critical of the waiver process and believes it is too opaque and insulated from independent oversight.

“It should be done by [the Office of Government Ethics (OGE)] and with transparency, and with timely transparency. You don’t want to find out six months from now that a waiver has been granted,” McGehee said. “Having an Obama appointee sign off on a waiver for another Obama appointee is not the appropriate process.”

Under a Feb. 23 memo on OGE’s website, ethics officers at federal agencies will decide whether an official needs a waiver or not from Obama’s executive order. Originally, the director of the Office of Management and Budget was designated to sign off on waivers from the executive order.

Lynn is the only administration official to have a waiver from the executive order finalized so far. The White House is developing a waiver process with OGE and is working to finalize any additional waivers for aides.