Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Do As I Say

President Obama signed an executive order last Friday that put in place tough new regulations against lobbyists working for his administration. Here are two of the three paragraphs:

2. Revolving Door Ban All Appointees Entering Government. I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.

3. Revolving Door Ban Lobbyists Entering Government. If I was a registered lobbyist within the 2 years before the date of my appointment, in addition to abiding by the limitations of paragraph 2, I will not for a period of 2 years after the date of my appointment:
(a) participate in any particular matter on which I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment;
(b) participate in the specific issue area in which that particular matter falls; or
(c) seek or accept employment with any executive agency that I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment.

Obama had promised during his campaign that his administration would not contain lobbyists. Of course at some point he realized that it would be impossible to eliminate all the lobbyists, so he amended his promise to say that lobbyists would not be running his administration. I just assumed that this was an empty campaign promise and it was certainly not one of the things that I was going to hold him to. So I was pleasantly surprised by the tough new ethics standards that the President created last week. Of course I very unpleasantly surprised to learn of this:

Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the administration has removed an obstacle to the confirmation of Bill Lynn to be Deputy Secretary of Defense by waiving the provisions of President Obama's Executive Order on Ethics Commitments that would have precluded Mr. Lynn's service. As a former defense lobbyist for Raytheon, Lynn's service would conflict with the Administration's new ethics rules. Those rules prohibit former lobbyist from working in the area they once lobbied, unless a waiver is given.

So let me get this straight, the President signs tough new ethics legislation and then immediately issues a ethics waiver in order to get around that very piece of legislation. While we try to get a handle on that, let's just think about Bill Lynn and the fact that he will be second in command at the Department of Defense. He was recently working as a lobbyist for Raytheon, which just happens to be one of America's largest defense contractors. His new position would would give him the authority to basically control access for people such as, let's say... lobbyists for various defense contractors. Now I am not suggesting that in his role he would favor lobbyists from Raytheon or perhaps show any favor to Raytheon in a contract bid situation, but wouldn't it be easier to avoid the appearance of possible favoritism by just picking someone else. Why on earth would the President feel the need to counter his own brand new legislation in order to fill the number two job at the Defense Department? I could almost understand this if the Secretary of Defense had a conflict or any of the number one people at the cabinet posts, but for the number two person? I want a better explanation as to why this was necessary. It's great to have brand new high standards for government service, but the don't mean much when the President basically says that they only apply to the people who meet the standard. If you don't happen to meet the new standard, don't worry, the President can just make it go away.

This is slightly troubling to me. Just as potential loopholes in our torture policy is troubling. Just as closing Gitmo, but leaving open similar detention facilities in Afghanistan is troubling. I have stated on this blog that Obama's moral compass is going to be variable at times, but I never thought that he would contradict himself so quickly and in such a public manner. What exactly is our new President trying to say, "Comply with the law, unless I tell you not to"? That sounds dangerously close to the Richard Nixon defense of, "it's not a crime if the President does it", that George Bush and company wrapped themselves in. This is not quite the start I was expecting from this administration. Is Mr. Lynn so singularly qualified that he forced the President to essentially "break" his own law? Is he so indispensable? As the quote says, graveyards are filled with indispensable people.


SJ said...

Charles De Gaulle.

Jack Jodell said...

The loophole in question is indeed potentially troubling, but I guess we'll have to see what develops and how it all plays out. I guess this boils down to 85% of something being better than 100% of nothing, but I, too, would be much happier with 100% of something...

Jack Jodell said...

PS. You might get a kick out of this: Yesterday or the day before, I left a comment praising Obama regarding his quick move in sending George Mitchell over to the Middle East on the "Tales from the Dark Side" blog you have listed on your site. HA---those right-wingers bit into me like a swarm of killer bees chasing a woman in a yellow dress who had just kicked their hive. Man, that blog's followers are NASTY! :)

Michael Hew said...

You are a brave man for wading into that den of insanity. I pretty much have that site up for comedy relief.