Published on Sunday, June 25, 2000 in the Washington Post
Clinton 'Rethinking' Lobbying Ban On White House Staffers
by Charles Babington
President Clinton was so eager to tighten restrictions for those who might leave his administration and start lobbying that he signed a tough new executive order only minutes after taking the oath of office in January 1993. But now that his presidency is winding down and some top aides are considering lobbying careers, the White House is mulling whether to soften those restrictions.
Clinton's 1993 executive order requires senior administration officials to wait five years after leaving the government before lobbying any federal agency for which they had "any responsibility." It imposes a lifetime ban on representing a foreign government.
In his first full day as president, Clinton said the new lobbying ban would help "uphold the highest possible ethical standards" and "guarantee that the members of this administration will be looking out for the American people and not for themselves."
Before the Clinton order, federal law required a one-year "cooling off" period--rather than five years. It also barred former senior officials of the executive branch from ever lobbying on a specific issue in which they were personally and substantially involved.
From the beginning, some government officials and outside analysts said the 1993 executive order's restrictions were too severe. Several warned that the lobbying ban could make it difficult to recruit top-notch executives to the new administration.
For more than seven years, Clinton has refused to alter the requirement that senior officials pledge to abide by the restrictions. But now the policy "is under review," White House spokesman Jake Siewert said in a recent interview.
It is unclear what changes, if any, the administration might make. Siewert referred further questions to the White House counsel's office, which declined to provide details.
"There are no ongoing discussions of modifying the pledge," said David Apol, associate counsel to the president. He did not take issue with Siewert's comment, but added, "I would not have used that term. . . . I suppose there's nothing that's not under review."
Asked if the lobbying ban is likely to be in place when Clinton leaves office in January, Apol said, "I wouldn't want to speculate about that."
He said it is no secret that some people inside and outside the government feel the ban is too restrictive. "There are concerns that have been aired for some time," he said. "We have listened to those concerns."
White House Chief of Staff John D. Podesta also said "there's no active review" of the lobbying ban, and declined further comment.
Stephen Potts, director of the federal Office of Government Ethics, said his staff previewed Clinton's plans for the 1993 executive order and concluded that it was "more restrictive than need be and it was going to have an inevitable chilling impact on their ability to recruit." Before Clinton took office, his staff agreed to drop the main item that Potts's office objected to, which would have restricted lawyers' ability to appear in court under certain circumstances.
Gregory Walden, a Washington lawyer who served in the Bush White House, said if the Clinton administration is considering a softening of the restrictions, "it's about time, because the executive order is overreaching." Walden, who wrote a book about government ethics, said he is particularly bothered that senior officials must agree to a lifetime ban on lobbying for a foreign government.
Given that Clinton is a champion of globalization and free trade, he said, "what is so pernicious and sinister about representing a foreign government" that is dealing with U.S. agencies?
Walden said the federal law that existed before Clinton took office was a sufficient safeguard against possible abuses of a revolving door between government service and lobbying.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company