White House Reverses Course: Now Allowing Lobbyists To Serve On Insider Government 'Advisory' Boards

from the just-making-it-official dept

For many years, we’ve talked about the very questionable practice by the USTR to set up “Industry Trade Advisory Committees” (ITACs), who had full access to the various documents concerning the trade agreements that were being negotiated. Obviously, for big companies, being one of the very small group of people on the inside, helping to shape trade agreements, is enormously powerful — especially since industries long ago learned that you can “launder” policy changes that Congress doesn’t want to make via the international trade agreement process, thereby putting pressure on Congress to act. It’s why we’ve pointed out that it seems rather unfair that the RIAA has direct access to the TPP agreement, but Senate staffers (including experts on international trade) have been refused access.

Of course, one of the lame responses from the USTR and others is that, technically President Obama’s ethics rules forbade “lobbyists” from being on those and other committees. But that was already very narrowly focused just on people who met the official definition of lobbyist. And, you could still have other people who work directly with lobbyists on the committee. So, for example, Neil Turkewitz, a VP with the RIAA is currently on the IP advisory committee. He can do that because he’s not technically a “lobbyist” — he just happens to work for an organization where the main function is lobbying, and where most of his colleagues are lobbyists.

Apparently, that sort of looseness wasn’t enough. The White House has now changed the rules to make them even friendlier to lobbyists:

In new guidance issued Tuesday, the administration said registered lobbyists will once again be allowed to serve on the boards so long as they are representing a client.

The new rules now say:

Under the Memorandum and this Revised Guidance, federally registered lobbyists may not serve on an advisory committee, board, or commission (hereinafter, ?committee?) in an ?individual capacity.? In this Revised Guidance, the term ?individual capacity? refers to individuals who are appointed to committees to exercise their own individual best judgment on behalf of the government, such as when they are designated as Special Government Employees as defined in 18 U.S.C. 202. The lobbyist ban do es not apply to lobbyists who are appointed in a ?representative capacity,? meaning that they are appointed for the express purpose of providing a committee with the views of a nongovernmental entity, a recognizable group of persons or nongovernmental entities (an industry sector, labor unions, or environmental groups, etc.), or state or local government.

The original ban was one of President Obama’s apparent “sweeping” changes, and which the President insisted showed how he was reducing the influence of lobbyists in government. Here’s what he said back in 2010 about this:

My Administration is committed to reducing the undue influence of special interests that for too long has shaped the national agenda and drowned out the voices of ordinary Americans. Special interests exert this disproportionate influence, in part, by relying on lobbyists who have special access that is not available to all citizens. Although lobbyists can sometimes play a constructive role by communicating information to the government, their service in privileged positions within the executive branch can perpetuate the culture of special interest access that I am committed to changing.

Apparently, the administration is a little less committed to changing that these days. Admittedly, the White House was somewhat pressured into this by a lawsuit from some lobbyists who (I’m not joking) argued their First Amendment rights were being violated. While a lower court rejected this argument, earlier this year, the DC Circuit appeals court claimed it was a legitimate First Amendment issue and that “the ban pressures them to limit their constitutional right to petition.”

Frankly, that’s ridiculous. Almost no one is allowed on these advisory committees. The Intellectual Property Advisory Committee has a grand total of 16 people. I’m sure there’s no way in hell I would be allowed on it. Does that mean that my constitutional right to petition the government has been denied? Of course not, because that’s a ridiculous interpretation of the First Amendment.

The Appeals Court ruling wasn’t the end of the case, as it was was sent back to the lower court for further review — but it appears that the Obama administration has effectively thrown in the towel and will allow the lobbyists back onto the committees that none of us are likely to ever be allowed on. Because that process wasn’t corrupt enough already…

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Comments on “White House Reverses Course: Now Allowing Lobbyists To Serve On Insider Government 'Advisory' Boards”

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56 Comments
David says:

In a next step

In new guidance issued Tuesday, the administration said registered lobbyists will once again be allowed to serve on the boards so long as they are representing a client.

In similar news, registered criminals will once again be allowed to serve as government officials so long as they are not being criminal just for evil’s sake.

I mean, seriously? “so long as they are representing a client”? What else is a lobbyist going to do?

John Cressman (profile) says:

Most Corrupt Administration - EVER

With its false promises of transparency and it’s continued insistence it is the MOST TRANSPARENT ADMINISTRATION EVER… the truth is… this President is the MOST corrupt, most opaque, most lawless and most vengeful administration in history.

* They don’t enforce the laws we have – controlled substances, immigration, etc.
* Don’t prosecute misconduct – IRS targeting, etc.
* Have prosecuted or persecuted more whistle blowers than ANY other administration
* The list goes on

But the really sad thing is… WE elected this Bozo not once… but twice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Most Corrupt Administration - EVER

Obama seems more spineless and without a shed of trustworthyness, than actual corrupt.

But when it comes to lacking equal enforcement of laws, vengeful against certain groups without acquring legal coverage and opaque as in legal battle on whistleblowing, journalism and the accept and pushing of USTRs open corruption, I think the other words fit him well.

Also, his foreign policy has fallen flat in his second term. Kerry is thick as a brick when it comes to diplomacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Most Corrupt Administration - EVER

Whose “we”? About half the people were smart enough to vote against him both times. I can almost understand the people voting for him the first time; but I cannot fathom who voted for him twice. And even more unfathomable will be if people put Hillary in office next.

Argonel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Most Corrupt Administration - EVER

To the point. I voted for O the first time because the other choice looked worse and he at least looked like he was capable of assembling a competent team to figurehead. Lesson learned I voted against him the second time around for all the good it did. If nothing else I preserved my right to complain about politics since I did my part to try to change the results.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Most Corrupt Administration - EVER

Yes, I have to laugh at the “most corrupt ever” claims. Obama isn’t even close — when compared to past presidents who are actually contenders for “most corrupt” Obama is a rank amateur.

You don’t even have to go back as far as Harding — there are have been more corrupt presidents in my lifetime.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So, exactly what system of governance (including none/anarchy) do you have in mind where corruption and powermongering won’t eventually set in? Because frankly, I don’t think there is such a thing. A republic at least takes many decades of wear, tear, and sabotage before the usual idiots can start running it into the ground.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I would stick with a representative democracy. But with more protections against corruption than we have now. On a Constitutional level, specifically. Don’t know what those protections should be, since politics is not my area of expertise. Just so long as it is actually possible to clean up the corruption at a rate similar to which it occurs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Representative democracy doesn’t really prevent tyranny of the majority. The representatives are still elected in a majoritarian process and legislation is also passed via majoritarian voting of those representatives.

The U.S. constitutional system makes tyranny of the majority more difficult because changing the constitution requires supermajorities but even under such a system it’s still doable. Representative democracy though doesn’t little to prevent tyranny of the majority.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

But with more protections against corruption than we have now. On a Constitutional level, specifically.

I’m not saying you’re wrong, but the problem is that over time those protections get weakened, twisted, and ignored. Our Constitution has pretty strong protections against corruption, but courts have interpreted many of them away, refused to prevent Congress from trampling on them, and the executive has just pretended many of them don’t exist, without consequence. A Constitution is only as good as its enforcement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I’m not saying you’re wrong, but the problem is that over time those protections get weakened, twisted, and ignored

Right. There needs to be something—I’m not sure what, but something—that can reduce this and actually work to clean up the corruption when it does occur.

Our Constitution has pretty strong protections against corruption, but courts have interpreted many of them away, refused to prevent Congress from trampling on them, and the executive has just pretended many of them don’t exist, without consequence.

I can’t think of anything in the Constitution that actually goes against corruption, other than the rules on impeachment. There aren’t very many enforcement rules in the Constitution itself.

Of course, even if there were, sufficient corruption would see that those methods aren’t used anyway. Even with better rules, you’d need some way to keep the populace engaged in keeping that enforced.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:


I can’t think of anything in the Constitution that actually goes against corruption, other than the rules on impeachment.

Maybe I’m speaking too broadly, but one of the principal goals of the Constitution is to limit opportunities for abuse of power. One very important protection that’s been completely gutted is the clause that states that the federal government can’t do anything not specifically allowed by the Constitution. The Supreme Court has since decided that the interstate commerce clause gives it the power to do pretty much anything it wants to.

David says:

Re: Re:

Since when does an employee of a lobbying group have [their] best interests in mind for all Americans other than [its] corporate masters.

Are you talking about lobbyists or congressmen?

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the congressmen. The voters outside looked from congressman to lobbyist, and from lobbyist to congressman, and from congressman to lobbyist again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Anonymous Coward says:

Frankly, that’s ridiculous. Almost no one is allowed on these advisory committees. The Intellectual Property Advisory Committee has a grand total of 16 people. I’m sure there’s no way in hell I would be allowed on it. Does that mean that my constitutional right to petition the government has been denied? Of course not, because that’s a ridiculous interpretation of the First Amendment.

LOL! You’re not a lobbyist, so you weren’t being banned from the committee because you’re a lobbyist. You wouldn’t ever be on the committee because you’re dishonest and shallow. But you’re not banned from it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yet this is supposed to be a democracy, right? This is what we voted for. The people want dishonest politicians that say one thing and do the opposite. Otherwise we would not have voted for them.

If this is what the people want then why didn’t Obama say this is what he was going to do before he got elected so that he can get more votes. Could it be that our laws do not represent what the public wants. Could it be that politicians know that advertising their true intents when running for office would cause them to quickly lose the election because they know this is not what the people want? What do the shills have to day about this. If this is what the people really want then why do politicians often flip flop once elected?

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yet this is supposed to be a democracy, right? This is what we voted for. The people want dishonest politicians that say one thing and do the opposite. Otherwise we would not have voted for them.

The fundamental problem with democracy is that whoever you vote for, what you get is a politician.

If the system does not compensate for that, it will end up corrupted. U.S. society disproportionately rewards and honors wealth. Health care, basic food and housing, justice, security, education: most of the defining characteristics of a first world country are reserved to the rich in the U.S.A. The whole country is founded on taking everything you can from the natives and hoarding it, defining success as an indicator of being blessed with God’s good will.

As long as the society is disproportionately focused on adoring and rewarding the most successful moneyrakers, the political caste, like every other caste, will define and measure its success by its ability to line its pockets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Health care, basic food and housing, justice, security, education: most of the defining characteristics of a first world country are reserved to the rich in the U.S.A.

What a crock. There are a lots of programs in this country that ensure nobody goes without food/shelter/etc. There a lots of private charities that help even more. The real argument not about giving help, it is about how much to give.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: The NAZI's had nothing on this administration

To be fair, while the degree may be drastically different, between the ‘people jailed perpetually without trial’, ‘anyone who exposes our actions is a traitor/terrorist!’, ‘kidnapping and torture of people because they might be terrorists’, it can be kinda hard to tell the difference at times.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The NAZI's had nothing on this administration

To be fair, while the degree may be drastically different, between the ‘people jailed perpetually without trial’, ‘anyone who exposes our actions is a traitor/terrorist!’, ‘kidnapping and torture of people because they might be terrorists’, it can be kinda hard to tell the difference at times.

No, it isn’t. It’s very easy to tell the difference between the Obama administration and the Hitler administration.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The NAZI's had nothing on this administration

To be clear I’m not saying the former is like the latter, even to any moderate degree, but when a a supposedly free, fair, and moral government is doing things that wouldn’t look out of place in a dictatorship or worse, well, something has gone very, very wrong.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The NAZI's had nothing on this administration

The problem is the comparison to the Nazis specifically — there is no comparison. It is true that some of the behaviors of the government are similar to some of the behaviors of the Nazis — but you find the same behaviors in a wide variety of other governments (both historical and current) that are nothing like the Nazis.

The only reason to compare the Obama administration to the Nazis is for the emotional appeal. In other words, it’s just bullshit.

LduN (profile) says:

“he’s not technically a “lobbyist” — he just happens to work for an organization where the main function is lobbying, and where most of his colleagues are lobbyists.”

However, the government says the following:
“he’s technically a “Terrorist” — he just happens to work for an organization where the main function is terrorist, and where most of his colleagues are terrorists. And also because we said so”

KevinEHayden (profile) says:

Follow the Money!

Obama only has about 2 years left in office. Then he needs a real job to go back to. This is probably just a favour to some big corporate types in exchange for future consideration when the time comes. We’ll only really know when he gets his next job. Either that or the ‘real’ powers that be have already got something juicy on him and are using that as leverage now. Maybe someone should start digging around in all the dirt to see what’s really happening.

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