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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Unlobbying Obama

The Obama administration is Washington’s most fertile incubator for influence peddlers. Or political fixers. Or industry association representatives. Whatever you call them, don’t call them lobbyists. Five years after the president issued an executive order barring his former appointees from lobbying the executive branch, dozens of administration officials who’ve left to take jobs representing corporate interests are getting around the ban by not registering as lobbyists, instead branding themselves as consultants or policy advisers.
“The influence industry is moving underground,” says Sarah Bryner, research director of the Center for Responsive Politics. The group counts 46 former Obama officials who have registered with the federal government as lobbyists. An additional 86 are what it calls “unlobbyists,” who use their connections in Congress and the White House to press for changes in laws and federal policy but who aren’t registered. “We still have many people leaving government and taking jobs that in the past would have resulted in them registering,” Bryner says. Now they are “skirting the disclosure requirements
Lenient federal rules let them duck the lobbyist label as long as they avoid direct communication with government employees on behalf of clients. Instead, they offer colleagues and customers an inside view of the administration’s thinking, detailed advice on how to frame arguments to people in the White House and Congress, and names and numbers of the best officials to approach. That can earn former presidential aides 5 to 10 times their government salaries.