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Monday, April 15, 2013

Administration Alumni and Interest Groups

At The New Republic, Noam Scheiber writes that Obama administration alumni are going into the interest group world.
Welcome to the buckraking phase of the Obama era. If the campaign was about hope, and the early presidency was about change, increasingly the administration has settled into a kind of normalcy in which it accommodates itself to Washington far more than Washington accommodates itself to Obama.
Within Obamaworld, there are a few unwritten rules about how to parlay one’s experience into a handsome payday. There is, for example, a loose taboo against joining a K Street lobbying shop and explicitly trading on administration connections. And while joining a consulting firm is acceptable, those who do are reluctant to work for clients reviled by liberals: gun makers, tobacco companies, Big Oil, union busters. Above all, there is a simple prohibition against excessive tackiness. “It’s like: Don’t embarrass yourself. You were part of something special,” says a longtime Obama adviser. “I think if [Obama] were to send an all-staff e-mail, it would be along the lines of Ron Burgundy—‘Stay classy, San Diego.’ ”
Some do not abide by these norms, but they are the exception.

The irony is that such tackiness is unnecessary. There are more than enough ways to cash in on a White House tour of duty that fall comfortably within the red lines governing Obama’s Washington. No one in the West Wing, from the president on down, would begrudge former colleagues the chance to make a buck so long as a modicum of tact is displayed.
The easiest place to accomplish this is at a Washington consulting firm that takes on corporate clients. For example, a group of companies might hire a firm like SKDKnickerbocker—a popular destination among young Obama operatives, run by former White House communications director Anita Dunn—to wage a P.R. campaign for certain tax advantages over their competitors. (The New Republic was an SKDKnickerbocker client.) “Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s two big rich companies fighting over something, and you pick a side,” says a former administration official now in the consulting world.
Previous posts have discussed non-lobbying lobbying.  The article explains its nicely:
Or a client caught in an unfortunate regulatory snag might want to know where to plead its case. “They say, ‘Listen, we have a problem with the White House. We think we should talk to Joe Smith,’ ” says the former official, describing a typical interaction. “I say: ‘That guy is a total moron. He’s not the person to talk to on this issue.’ ... It’s giving background advice to people without lobbying.”