By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Less than 24 hours after President Barack Obama bashed lobbyists during his State of the Union address, his administration was inviting lobbyists to participate in private briefings on some of the topics raised during the speech.
During the State of the Union address, the president promised to “ . . end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; to give our people the government they deserve.”
However, according to a report by The Hill, several lobbyists say they received invitations the morning after the speech from Fred Baldassaro of the Treasury Department’s Office of Business Affairs and Public Liaison asking them to join in a series of conference calls with senior Obama administration officials to discuss key aspects of the State of the Union address.
The calls, which began at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, discussed topics such as job creation, economic growth, education, climate change and healthcare reform.
The invitation stated, “The White House is encouraging you to participate in these calls and will have a question and answer session at the end of each call. As a reminder, these calls are not intended for press purposes.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended the lobbyist meetings Thursday, telling The Hill that “it is standard for our outreach team to organize a conference call … after a major speech or announcement.”
But that doesn’t explain why some lobbyists have expressed frustration with the White House for criticizing them during the speech, then seeking their feedback the following day. Others complain that Democrats on Capitol Hill constantly urge them to make political donations.
One lobbyist told the Hill, “Bash lobbyists, then reach out to us. Bash lobbyists [while] I have received four Democratic invitations for fundraisers.”
Timothy P. Carney, writing for the Washington Examiner, says that the president’s tough talk on lobbyists highlights a “complex” relationship between the administration and K Street. For instance, during the speech, Obama referred to last week’s Supreme Court decision to strike down restrictions on corporate political advertisements, saying, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests.”
“The comment jibes with Obama’s populist tone, but it clashes with his actual fundraising numbers,” Carney points out.
Apparently, Obama raised $14.8 million from Wall Street (the “Securities and Investment” industry as the Center for Responsive Politics defines it) — more than any politician in history, Carney writes.
“Obama’s $995,000 from employees and executives at investment bank giant Goldman Sachs is the most a politician has raised from a single company since the 2001 campaign finance reform law. Similarly, Obama set the record for raising money from the health insurance industry ($1.4 million) and the pharmaceutical industry ($2.1 million).”
Obama also claimed that his administration excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs, but this isn’t true either.
There are “dozens of former lobbyists serving in his administration,” Carney writes, “including in policy-making jobs.”
“And that is why many on K Street are exasperated with Obama’s use of lobbyists as a punching bag,” The Hill reports. “Some have said they understood why he used strong rhetoric on the campaign trail but are irritated the White House solicits their opinions while Obama’s friends in Congress badger them for political donations.”
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