While conceptually, I think many people appreciate President Obama's stance against bringing lobbyists into his administration, in all practicality, the rule has been a combination of meaningless or troubling. Tom Barger points to a NY Times article where many people are upset that some extremely qualified folks who worked for non-profit human rights organizations
are being denied positions in the administration. There's been some pushing to get the administration to make an exception for human rights and non-profit lobbyists, noting that the intent of the rule was to bar corporate
lobbyists from gaining too much influence, but the administration has struck down those suggestions, saying it leads to a slippery slope.
But, of course, in reality, we know that slippery slope already exists. That's because the ban on "lobbyists" is really only being used for folks who were officially registered as lobbyists
. That leaves out tons of people who worked for these corporate entities or even for the lobbyist groups themselves, but weren't officially registered lobbyists themselves. We've already seen how the Justice Department is, for example, being filled
with lawyers who regularly worked with the RIAA, MPAA and BSA -- three of the biggest copyright lobbying organizations, and those individuals have wasted no time in expressing their desire
to continue pushing those industry's viewpoints in their new positions.
So the idea that lobbyists are being kept out is pretty silly. As the NY Times article notes, all this really does is encourage lobbyists not to register themselves as lobbyists, but to focus on lobbying unofficially, so that they can still get administration positions at a later date. That creates less openness and transparency, and a larger risk of regulatory capture, rather than a diminished one. We all like the idea of trying to keep corporate influence out of the law making (and law enforcement) side of government, but a blanket ban on all lobbyists, while letting non-lobbyist lobbyists in the back door isn't exactly reassuring.