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Monday, July 11, 2011

Former Obama Aide v. Nutritional Guidelines

Our chapter on interest groups describes how they often hire former government officials. For instance, a former top Obama aide is working against an Obama initiative. The Washington Post reports:
The food and advertising industries have launched a multi-pronged campaign to squash government efforts to create voluntary nutritional guidelines for foods marketed to children.

Calling themselves the Sensible Food Policy Coalition, the nation’s biggest foodmakers, fast-food chains and media companies, including Viacom and Time Warner, are trying to derail standards proposed by four federal agencies. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also lent its lobbying muscle to the effort.

The coalition declined to release its budget for the campaign, which is being managed by Anita Dunn of the firm SKDKnickerbocker. Dunn served as White House communications director under President Obama in 2009 and is married to Robert F. Bauer, the former White House counsel.

Her work on behalf of foodmakers is surprising to some because first lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity her signature issue. In a speech last year to food manufacturers and retailers, the first lady urged them to curb the marketing of unhealthy foods.

“Our kids didn’t learn about the latest sweets and snack foods on their own,” she told the industry. “They hear about these products from advertisements on TV, the Internet, video games, schools, many other places.”

Consumer groups say the food lobby is aiming to capitalize on Dunn’s connections, particularly among Democrats more sympathetic to nutritional guidelines. The Center for Science in the Public Interest said Dunn and her firm “should be ashamed.”

Dunn dismissed the criticism.

“Without resorting to personal attacks, everybody should be able to work together towards a common goal here,” she said. “At the end of the day, combating childhood obesity is not a question of what gets advertised but a matter of more exercise, healthier eating habits and working together.”

Last fall, Dunn was an advocate for full disclosure when it came to campaigns. On October 7, she said on Anderson Cooper's program:

Disclosure is one of the keys to our campaign finance system. And disclosure has always been one of the cleanest ways of people knowing exactly who's funding campaigns and why they're funding them.

Now, in this year, egregiously, you have a -- you know, you have the campaigns whose voices are actually getting shouted out and drowned out by these outside interests that, yes, they don't control them, but voters don't discriminate or make a difference between the ads.

And the reality is, candidates have lost control of their campaigns in a lot of these places, as Ed said, and it's -- you know, when you're running a campaign, you do want to control your message. You want to be able to -- your accountable for what goes on the air, and so you want to be able to have some confidence that what's on the air is actually reflecting your views and your campaign strategy.

That has changed dramatically, particularly in this year where, in some states, the actual candidates' advertising is being outspent two or three to one by outside interests.