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Obama, Abramoff and "Lobbying Reform"

4 years ago
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Jack Abramoff met with a Hollywood movie director a few weeks ago at his low-security prison. The director mentioned my name, and Abramoff said, "Emily Miller is the reason I am in here."

For over three years, Abramoff has told reporters and friends that I am to blame for his imprisonment.

I am not.

I do not know if he says this as a public relations maneuver or to rationalize his downfall to himself (i.e. It's not my fault, it's that crazy girl!). Whatever his rationalization, it's just not true.The reason Jack Abramoff is in jail is that he broke many laws in his urgent greed for more money and power.

The result of the Abramoff scandal is that the public perceives that all lobbyists in Washington are the scum of the earth and all politicians are crooks, but that is not the case.

As the saying goes: some of my best friends are lobbyists - both Republicans and Democrats. They believe that they are honestly and fairly representing their clients' interests and their experience make the governing process more effective.

One prominent Democratic lobbyist, defending the profession, said that "99 percent of us are doing legitimate and honest work; one percent are the 'pay to play' types. Why punish the rest of us for the greed and criminals like Jack Abramoff?"

Every industry has a few crooks like Abramoff and his cohorts. Wall Street is experiencing the same public backlash. The public perception is that all fund managers are scam artists like Bernie Madoff and all bankers are greedy bastards who get multi-million dollar bonuses funded by taxpayers.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama campaigned on "ethics" and against lobbyists in Washington, but this was merely an overly simplistic, easy-sell gambit for votes. Running as an "outside-the-Beltway" candidate has been in fashion over the past two decades. But I do not see this as an asset if, after being elected, they do not know how to get things done in Washington.

In January, President Obama signed the Executive Order on Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch. His lobbying reforms have, at best, been ineffective and at worst have created a new shadow set of lobbyists who are outside public disclosure laws.

The new rules and regulations mandate that no one who has been a registered lobbyist for the previous two years is eligible for appointment to a department that they had lobbied, even if the posting has nothing to do with the issues lobbied. The so-called "revolving door" ban also dictates that a political appointee cannot lobby anyone for two years after working in the government.

The result of these rules is that desks are empty in key positions at the Treasury Department and other cabinet agencies. Our national economic crisis is worsened by the fact that we cannot get legislation enacted because our government is short-staffed.

The best qualified people, who know how Washington works and can get things done, are refusing political appointments because after their public service, they would be banned from lobbying the entire administration as long as Obama is in the White House.

One Democratic lobbyist I know explained that "It's a two year ban going in, but an eight year ban coming out! Key slots in the administration are unfilled because no one wants to give up their careers for a short-term, lower paid stint in government, especially if you can't make up for the lower salary afterward- it's insane!"

The most egregious result of Obama's so-called ethics reform is that Democratic lobbyists have already found a way around the new laws. They are "unregistering" as lobbyists -- in formal terms, filing termination forms with the Senate – so that they can get an early start on the countdown on the two year lobby-free ban.

As the "termination" filings by lobbyists pile up at the Senate, rumors swirl that these same people are billing clients the same massive monthly fees to consult, advise or strategize -- all activities that are not required to be filed for public disclosure. It is unclear whether these lobbyists are notifying their clients about termination filings, and if they are, how they are explaining their current work.

In the aftermath of the Abramoff scandal, Obama was perceived by the American public as the candidate of ethical reform who would clean up Washington and lobbying practices. Ironically, it's the Democratic lobbyists who are most outraged by the new rules, which make it almost impossible for them to do their jobs effectively.

Furthermore, the rules defy common sense. The president has said that his administration -- himself included -- would not meet with registered lobbyists but would meet with CEOs of companies. First of all, these CEOs are almost all big donors, so why is that any better? Also, what is the point of meeting with a CEO who is a business expert but not a legislative expert, when meeting with the company's government relations person would make the issue clearer and move the process forward?

Message to President Obama: the campaign is over and now is the time to govern. To get us out of this recession, you need the most experienced and knowledgeable people working in your administration. The lobbying rules are getting in the way of effective governing and you should re-evaluate and rescind the most ridiculous aspects.

The criminal lobbyists are paying for their crimes. Now, let's get back to running the country.

Filed Under: Woman Up

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