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November 27, 2009

How is Newt Gingrich Not a Lobbyist?

Posted in: Uncategorized

While I think this is definitely a step in the right direction, I wonder if this has been completely thought through:

Hundreds, if not thousands, of lobbyists are likely to be ejected from federal advisory panels as part of a little-noticed initiative by the Obama administration to curb K Street’s influence in Washington, according to White House officials and lobbying experts.

The new policy — issued with little fanfare this fall by the White House ethics counsel — may turn out to be the most far-reaching lobbying rule change so far from President Obama, who also has sought to restrict the ability of lobbyists to get jobs in his administration and to negotiate over stimulus contracts.

Lobbying isn’t an inherently evil activity, it just often works out that way. After the White House announced a ban on lobbyists filling administration slots, Tom Malinowski was knocked out of the running because he was a lobbyist for Human Rights Watch. A waiver was given to William Lynn III, a lobbyist for Raytheon, however, who got a top deputy job at the Pentagon.

Tom Daschle works at the biggest lobbying shops in town, and yet he’s not a registered lobbyist. Neither is Dick Gephardt, who nonetheless picks up a check from PhRMA for his troubles. He runs a “PR firm.”

But the biggest question mark of all is next to Newt Gingrich’s name. His “Center for Health Transformation” is not registered as a lobbying shop. Newt isn’t registered as a lobbyist. And yet here’s a statement from Nathan Deal (R-GA):

In an effort to achieve the goals of increasing transparency and improving a patient’s right to know, I have worked in close collaboration with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his staff at the Center for Health Transformation in developing the Health Care Transparency Act of 2009.

A member of Congress is writing legislation in “close collaboration” with Newt’s outfit. And CHT’s Ron Bachman testified before the Health Subcommittee pushing Deal’s bill (PDF). Who’s paying Newt? Will they financially benefit if this bill passes? Well, who knows? Because Newt, like Daschle and Gephardt, isn’t a registered lobbyist, they don’t have to report that kind of information.

Lobbyists are often the people who know best the state of play on any given issue because they’re talking with people on the Hill all day and they know who is trying to do what. From an optics perspective, banning “lobbyists” from advisory boards sure appears like a good move. The problem is, it sweeps up a bunch of people who are lobbying in the public interest who have no financial interest at stake. And somehow, the legal definition of “lobbyist” doesn’t seem to cover many of those who are peddling influence for big bucks.

I’m certain there are people who have thought about this a great deal, but “Do you or an organization you work for stand to profit as a result of the actions of this panel?” seems a more effective threshold for participation in federal advisory boards.

The definition of “lobbyist” seems a bit too flexible to prohibit the biggest of the professional influence peddlers from getting their claws in.

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