White House meets little resistance in hiring former lobbyists

Watchdog groups that warned the White House against hiring former lobbyists who could pose conflicts of interest are giving a pass to two recent hires who lobbied for a union and a major nonprofit advocacy group.

The White House recently brought on Alethea Predeoux, a former lobbyist for the American Federation of Government Employees, and Charanya Krishnaswami, who lobbied for Amnesty International.

The moves come after President Biden signed an executive order placing restrictions on all former registered lobbyists working in the administration, drawing praise from advocacy groups like the Revolving Door Project and Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Those same organizations have taken no issue with the recent waivers.

“Switching between working for a public interest organization and for the government doesn’t involve switching teams, it just involves switching offices. Your North Star remains the same — trying to vindicate your view of what is broadly right or wrong,” said Jeff Hauser, Revolving Door Project executive director.

“Lobbying generally is constitutionally protected and is not the problem with government; corporate lobbying is,” he added.

Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said: “Public interest lobbyists are generally not an issue. The issue is corporate lobbyists who could, with one exemption in the tax code or one alteration to regulation, skew hundreds of billions of dollars to their former industry.” 

Biden’s executive order in January said any former registered lobbyists working in the administration can’t participate in issues on which they previously lobbied, a stipulation that required waivers for Predeoux and Krishnaswami.

Predeoux, who started her job on Monday, is director of congressional, legislative and intergovernmental affairs at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Krishnaswami, a senior counselor at the Department of Homeland Security, joined the administration in February.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the waivers. 

Other watchdog groups say there is no conflict of interest with such exceptions, while arguing there would be if the former lobbyists came from a corporate background. 

“Government service should be predicated on being free from conflicts of interest and having genuine expertise to bring to bear. We are comfortable with former public interest lobbyists serving if they receive clear transparent waivers. We are not for corporate lobbyists or those that bring conflicted revolving door history to their new post,” said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president at the left-leaning group Public Citizen.

Public Citizen and more than 30 other groups sent Biden a letter during the transition urging him to “reject the influence” of corporations by committing to exclude Big Tech executives and lobbyists.

Biden’s executive order also required all political appointees to sign an ethics pledge that includes a ban on certain lobbying for two years after they leave the administration.

“I am not surprised, nor disappointed that the Biden Administration has brought in a few lobbyists,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a group that advocates for campaign finance reform.

“First, there is a procedure in place to issue lobbying waivers and it appears the procedure has been followed. Second, in the two cases so far, the individuals who received the waivers worked for nonprofits unassociated with an industry and have expertise in their area of responsibility,” she said.

Krishnaswami was the Americas advocacy director at Amnesty starting in February of 2019. Before that, she worked as a refugee status determination associate at the United Nations’s refugee agency for over two years. 

“Managing an ongoing recusal for Ms. Krishnaswami will impact several of the Department’s important missions. The successful accomplishment of these missions relies on extensive, open, and collaborative communications within the Department, including between the Secretary and Senior Counselors to the Secretary for Immigration” the White House Office of Management and Budget wrote in a memo granting her waiver.

The American Federation of Government Employees, where Predeoux was a lobbyist, announced in February of 2019 that she would be the union’s director of legislative affairs after serving as deputy director of legislative affairs since 2017. 

“Much of her work involves the activities with the staffs of the same committees that have oversight over OPM, so she personally knows the members and staffs of those committees and has a thorough, comprehensive understanding of federal workforce issues. In addition, she understands the need to continually educate congressional members and their staffs about OPM and the issues important to the agency,” the waiver for Predeoux read.

McGehee argued that Predeoux’s background makes her a very good fit for the work she is doing for the administration. 

“In the case of Ms. Predeoux, her new job requires legislative advocacy skills, which she developed as a lobbyist. Just as one would want the government to hire a trained engineer to do a job that requires engineering skills, it is good practice to hire someone with lobbying experience to do a job that requires lobbying skills,” McGehee said.

Biden’s order, when it was issued, drew praise from progressives because it went further than the Obama White House pledge with its restrictions on so-called golden parachutes and shadow lobbying, which allows people who aren’t registered to essentially lobby under the radar. The policy to prevent golden parachutes means appointees can’t receive cash or other benefits from their private sector employer when joining the administration.

But the relationship with one lobbyist has raised eyebrows since Biden took office. Jeff Ricchetti, the brother of White House counsel Steve Ricchetti, was hired to lobby by tech giant Amazon in November.

Ricchetti Inc. was hired to work on issues related to COVID-19, including implementation of the CARES Act, according to lobbying disclosures. Steve Ricchetti is also a former lobbyist, but didn’t need a waiver because he was last registered in 2008.

Five registered lobbyists or people who were registered within the last year were on the Biden transition team, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis from November. They all came from unions and received waivers to work in the administration.

Had they come from corporate America, watchdogs say it would’ve been a different story.

“[I]f the Biden administration began hiring lobbyists to positions not related to their skills or experience, placing lobbyists in a position to provide special access to government decision-making, or the administration attempts to bypass the public waiver procedures, or the number of lobbyists hired explodes, then there would be cause for concern,” McGehee said.

Tags AFGE Amazon Amnesty International conflicts of interest ethics pledge Issue One Joe Biden Lobbying lobbyists Public Citizen Revolving Door Project Ricchetti Inc. Steve Ricchetti waivers

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