The leader of Barack Obama's transition team has delivered some bad
news to the hordes of lobbyists plying their trade in the fancy
restaurants and faceless offices along Pennsylvania Avenue: they are
Podesta, the transition chief, has revealed a set of draconian new
regulations aimed at curbing the excessive influence of lobbyists, as
Mr Obama promised throughout his election campaign. They are to be
denied their normal role of greasing the wheels of the new
administration's costly transition to power by paying for office space
and staff between now and the inauguration on 20 January.
Podesta unveiled what he said was "the strictest, the most far-reaching
ethics rules of any transition team in history," and declared "that the
undue influence of Washington lobbyists and the revolving door of
Washington ceases to exist."
The White House and the Capitol
are the two most impressive buildings in Washington but power is really
along Pennsylvania Avenue and K Street, where the top-tier lobbyists
arrange access to decision-makers and cut backroom deals for special
Now, in the dying days of the Bush
administration, an unprecedented frenzy is under way as Washington's
legal and lobbying establishment tries to get its hands on some of the
$700bn (£470bn) financial rescue package for clients before a deadline
One of the top firms is Alston & Bird, which
boasts it has the former Republican presidential contender and senator,
Bob Dole, on its books. But Democrats are no slouches at lobbying
either. The national co-chair of Mr Obama's election campaign, former
Senator Tom Daschle also works for Alston & Bird though not, we are
assured, as a registered lobbyist. Instead he provides "high level
advisory and strategic advice" to the company.
To cope with the
crush of lobbyists at its doors, the Treasury Department hired Jeb
Mason, a 32-year old Texan who wears cowboy boots and hat to work. A
former White House aide of the political adviser Karl Rove, he is now
the point of call for the hired guns of the banking industry, insurance
and credit card companies lining up to get some of the taxpayers'
Talking about the dozens of phone calls and emails he
gets from lobbyists, he told the New York Times, "this must have been
how the Politburo felt".
Mr Obama's transition team is planning
to hire about 450 people, who will be divided between Washington and
Chicago, at a cost of about $12m. Less than half of that amount will be
paid for from the public purse and Mr Obama is planning to fund the
rest by asking the more than 3 million people who poured small amounts
of money into his campaign to make up the rest. No incoming president
before him has had access to such a potential well of money and his
team has already sent out emails offering "Victory T-shirts" in return
for fresh contributions.
Ever since Ronald Reagan's day,
corporations and law firms have picked up the tab for presidential
transitions. To avoid even the appearance of abuse, the Obama team is
limiting private donations to a maximum of $5,000 and will disclose the
names of all donors. "So you'll see our contributions... to the
transition prior to the inauguration, yes," Mr Podesta said.
problem the Obama transition team faces is that some of the brightest
Washington brains it might want to hire for the transition and later in
government are already registered lobbyists. "I've heard the other
complaint, which is we're leaving all these experts on the side...
We're leaving all the people who know everything out in the cold," Mr
Podesta said. "And so be it."
Mr Podesta, who is himself the
head of a think-tank, the Centre for American Progress, says that any
lobbyists who are hired will be banned from working in areas for which
they have previously lobbied.
And anyone who turns to lobbying
after gaining insights and contacts working on the transition for the
next 69 days, will be barred for 12 months from lobbying the new
administration on a subject area they worked on.
are viewed as pious hopes by many in Washington. Former president Bill
Clinton tried to restrict lobbyists and failed. President Bush did
little to stop their growth and they are now a multibillion-dollar
business of influence. Even if Mr Obama succeeds in limiting their
access to his administration, Congressmen and women are particularly
soft targets. For many politicians, getting elected and serving a term
or two is merely a rite of passage on the road to a lucrative
Pennsylvania Avenue career.