As a candidate, President Barack Obama promised to “Shine the Light on Washington Lobbying” by creating “a centralized Internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable and downloadable format.” That database will be completed any day, we’re sure, but President Obama has definitely already “shined a light” on how Washington really works.
Consider Obama’s failed Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Daschle. As the New York Times reported this February, in the four years since he left the Senate, Daschle managed to make over $5 million and “live a lavish lifestyle by dint of his name.” But throughout that entire four year period, Daschle never registered as a lobbyist despite working for the lobbying firm Alston & Bird. Instead, Daschle merely “consulted” for clients with business before the federal government including two Indian tribes, a firm with heavy stakes in ethanol subsidies, and another with key issues before the Federal Aviation Administration.
And Daschle’s not alone. The Washington Post reports today:
The lobbying firm that features Democratic power broker Harold Ickes reported earning nearly $700,000 from its clients last year. But according to disclosure reports filed with Congress, more than half of the money was spent on no lobbying at all.
The case illustrates a common phenomenon in the lobbying world, in which firms report collecting money from clients while claiming on public disclosure forms that they did not contact any members of Congress or administration officials in return.
A study to be released today by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics identifies 19,000 such lobbying reports over the past decade, totaling nearly $600 million in payments. The frequency of such reports is also increasing, the study shows, accounting for more than one out of 10 filings last year.
This report demonstrates how completely hollow Obama’s “ethics” reforms are. By ramping up regulations on lobbyists, all Obama is doing is decreasing the number of people who call themselves lobbyists. Instead, savvy Washington operatives find ways to influence legislation and federal policy by means that don’t fit the legal definition of lobbying. And this will always be the case. As soon as you write a new definition, smart people will find a new loophole around it.
The only solution to keeping big money from dictating winners and losers in our society is to keep as much power and control away from the federal government as possible. Unfortunately the Obama Administration is doing the exact opposite.