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Obama Hires Former Keystone XL Lobbyist as Senate Liaison Because It's 'In the Public Interest'

New deputy assistant for legislative affairs worked for firm whose clients included tar sands industry group

The new deputy assistant for legislative affairs was lobbyist who pushed for the Keystone XL pipeline.  (Photo: Elvert Barnes/flickr/cc)

The Obama administration has appointed as new Senate liaison a former lobbyist whose job included pushing for construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline—an appointment that required the waiving of an ethics rule.

As deputy assistant for legislative affairs, Marty Paone "will be the White House’s main staffer responsible for outreach to the Senate," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Paone worked from 2010-2014 as Executive Vice President at the Prime Policy Group, whose clients included a group "dedicated to the development of Canada's vast oil sands," according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Also citing the Center's data, Reuters reports that Paone's "firm received $280,000 in 2013 and 2014 from the In Situ Oil Sands Alliance, a group of four companies working to develop oil sands in Alberta, Canada, that would be exported to the United States should Transcanada's Keystone XL pipeline be constructed."

His new duties will exclude issues related to the pipeline, Reuters adds.

Before his time at Prime Policy Group, Paone spent decades on the Hill, as RollCall reports: "Paone ran the Senate’s floor operations for the Democrats as their party secretary from 1995-2008, and in a 32-year tenure on Capitol Hill, spent 29 of them on the floor."

A 2009 executive order from President Obama states than an appointee for an executive agency cannot have "lobbied that agency within the 2 years before the appointment date.

Because of his lobbying history, therefore, Paone required an exception. From the Washington Post:

To justify the Paone hire, White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote that Obama “requires a candidate who possesses deep and long-standing relationships in both parties in order to facilitate productive dialogue between the Senate and the White House …” Therefore, Eggleston reasoned that it was in “the public interest” to grant Paone the waiver.

The Post goes on report that Paone is not alone but among scores in receiving a waiver based on the ethics pledge part of the executive order, though he "is the first to get the waiver on the lobbying restriction at least in the previous two years."

In a statement released Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-) called the hiring of Paone "a very wise move" and said he "will be an enormous asset to President Obama in the coming years as a tough but fair and widely trusted negotiator."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who will become the majority leader, has said that approving the Keystone XL will be on top of the new Senate's agenda.

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