Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Courting the White House: Don’t call it lobbying

Cass Sunstein, the White House and Jack Lew are shown in a POLITICO composite. | AP Photos

Remember when Obama was campaigning to be president? Can you recall what he said about lobbyists? Then think about what happened after he got elected. How many lobbyists did he appoint to his cabinet?

All fun facts to be sure, but the charade has evolved into a full-fledged end-around lobbying effort being touted as (are you ready for this?) “Dialogues.” 

You can call a pig by any other name, but in the end it’s still a pig.

Want to get a meeting with the White House? Just don’t call it lobbying.

President Barack Obama promised early in 2009 that he would usher in new limits on special-interest influence peddling on his watch, enacting tough disclosure rules that created an anti-lobbyist climate in town.

But some Washington insiders have figured out how to work the new system. Case in point: A nonprofit called Business Forward can boast of setting up an average of three meetings a week between top White House officials and business leaders, and member companies like Microsoft, Visa and Hilton.

The strategy: The meetings, with top officials like Cass Sunstein and Jack Lew, (both pictured above) are billed as “dialogues.” It’s an approach that plays well with former academics in the administration who prefer a discussion with a special interest groups to a meeting with a hired gun.

Business Forward and a similar group, the Common Purpose Project, say the meetings don’t violate any rules and aren’t even lobbying in the traditional sense. But the companies funding Business Forward and the wealthy donors that subsidize CPP ’s operation are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year in large part because of what they offer: special access.”


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