WASHINGTON - Watchdog groups are blasting the Obama administration for dodging
records rules and cutting corners on its self-imposed disclosure
requirements for White House visitors.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called
for an investigation by a congressional oversight committee of
potential violations of the Presidential Records Act and Federal
Records Act. And the Sunlight Foundation on Friday set up shop outside
a nearby coffeehouse to catch any administration staffers secretly
meeting with K Streeters.
"It shouldn't matter whether or not a meeting between White House
officials and lobbyists happens at the White House or at Caribou
Coffee," wrote Sunlight's Nicole Aro in a blog post.
Despite its pledge to be transparent about special interest access,
and its anti-lobbyist rules and rhetoric, the Obama administration is
apparently more in touch with lobbyists than it would like people to
know. The New York Times reported on Thursday that White
House staffers use personal email accounts and nearby coffeeshops to
avoid a paper trail and to keep lobbyists' names from appearing in the much-ballyhooed visitors log too frequently.
Also, two lobbyists told the Times that "the White House
had suggested that a job candidate be 'deregistered' as a lobbyist in
Senate records to avoid violating the administration's hiring
Though 2009 was the most profitable year ever for the influence industry, more than a thousand lobbyists deregistered,
a trend many attribute to Obama's harsh rhetoric and rules barring
lobbyists from serving in the administration or on federal advisory
"There's no doubt that many lobbyists have revisited their status in
order to achieve a number of goals, including jobs in the
administration, and to avoid the 'Scarlet L,'" said Mike Fulton, a
lobbyist with Golin Harris and a board member with the American League
of Lobbyists, a group that promotes best practices on K Street.
Indeed, two lobbyists heard Obama's rhetoric and decided it would be
better to ditch the Scarlet L and start a new "non-lobbying entity"
called K Street Research.
"This is what all the administration's anti-lobbyist rhetoric gets
you -- less transparency," said CREW director Melanie Sloan in a
statement. "Rather than being open and clear about who is influencing
White House policy, the White House is trying to hide who it's really
talking to. Even worse, the public is being suckered with lofty
rhetoric about the evils of the same lobbyists White House officials
are meeting with."
Republicans seized on the Times story as well: "Just
because the latte-drinking liberals in the Obama White House prefer
coffee houses to the traditional smoke-filled backrooms of Washington
in order to cut their special interest deals, doesn't make it any less
insulting to the American public," said Ken Spain, a spokesman for
National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Sunlight Foundation had some trouble tracking down any lobbyists
when it staked out Caribou Coffee on Friday, noting in a video that
"lobbyists look like everyone else." A similar problem occurred when
the White House first released
its visitor logs. "A lot of people visit the White House, up to 100,000
each month, with many of those folks coming to tour the buildings,"
wrote White House ethics lawyer Norm Eisen. "Given this large amount of
data, the records we are publishing today include a few 'false
positives' -- names that make you think of a well-known person, but are
actually someone else."
Michael Jordan, William Ayers, Michael Moore, Jeremiah Wright, and
R. Kelly did not actually visit the White House, Eisen wrote -- just
their non-famous namesakes. But maybe they stopped by Caribou.
WATCH Sunlight's video: