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On Obama White House Visitor Log: Lobbyists, Movie Stars and Bailed Out CEOs

5 years ago
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The White House released a visitor's log late Friday that revealed many of DC's biggest Democratic lobbyists have made frequent visits, despite President Obama's stringent new lobbying rules. The record of visitors also looks like a red carpet list of celebrities and Hollywood movie stars. And CEOs of all those Wall Street banks the government bailed out earlier this year came calling frequently, too.

Many of the Democratic lobbyists who frequented the White House this year are also among the highest earning lobbying firms in 2009, including power player Steve Elmendorf of Elmendorf Strategies (five times), Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group, the fourth highest earning lobbying firm so far in 2009 (five times) and his wife Heather Podesta of Heather Podesta and Partners (three times.)

The Podesta family lobbyists must be getting frequent flyer miles for all their trips to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Tony's brother, John Podesta of the Center for American Progress, who ran the Obama transition, visited an astounding 17 times.

The Obama White House has also been frequented by aging hottie movie stars George Clooney, Denzel Washington and Brad Pitt.

The list of 431 names of people who visited the White House between January 20 and July 31 includes only the names of those visitors who were specifically requested for release by outside organizations and watchdog groups.

Other celebrities on the visitor log are Serena Williams and Oprah Winfrey. (Apparently watchdog groups aren't all that interested in celebrities because missing from this are this year's other famous White House visitors, including Sheryl Crow, Jimmy Smits, Mary Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys, Tiger Woods, Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, Usher, Forest Whitaker and the Jonas Brothers.)

Wall Street CEOs who came a-knocking in the months after of the massive government bailout in January are: Goldman Sachs's Lloyd Blankfein , Citigroup's Vikram Pandit, AIG's Maurice Greenberg and JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon.

Alan Greenspan,
who is getting a lot of flak for his role in the economic recession, neverthless visited the White House six times this year.

Amusingly, the White House Special Counsel Norm Eisen clarified in
a written statement that some names listed are "include a few 'false positives' – names that make you think of a well-known person, but are actually someone else."

Some, such as Michael Jordan and R. Kelly, probably don't mind sharing a name with someone more famous. But it's likely to be tough doing business in Washington for "false positives" Williams Ayers and Jeremiah Wright.

The White House gives us enough credit not to put Billy Clinton in the category of "false positives." But is the John Edwards who visited four times this year the former Democratic presidential candidate currently mired in a sex scandal?

The White House records tell some backstories to political events this year. HHS Sec. nominee Tom Daschle visited nine times in January before withdrawing his nomination for unpaid taxes. Daschle must still be in good stead with the White House because he also visited twice this past summer.

Also, while Sen. Ted Kennedy was not seen in public much in the months before his death in August, he made seven visits to the White House in 2009, twice in late July.

Former Vice President Al Gore has visited, as other allies, including Jesse Jackson, Sr. who is known for self-promotion but quietly visited six times, billionaire philanthropist George Soros (four times); and Al Sharpton (twice).

The most frequent visitor? That would be Andrew Stern, who has been to the White House a grand total of 22 times this year so far. Stern is president of the Service Employees International Union. In stark contrast, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has only been to the White House once, in March.

A few Republicans made it through the Northwest gate, such as former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, conservative religious leader Gary Bauer and Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who is running for governor of her state.

President Obama, as I've written before, decreed in March that that neither he nor anyone in his administration would meet with registered lobbyists related to the economic stimulus package. The White House calls the visitor log release "a major milestone in government transparency -- and an important lesson in the unintended consequences of such vigorous disclosure." In addition, starting next month the White House will release the visitor logs every three months.

But by releasing the records on its website at 4:31p.m. on Friday, the White House gave many the impression that it was 'dumping' the list after the daily news cycle so it would be overlooked by the public over the Halloween weekend. Also, the names of lobbyists and CEOs who were not specifically requested for release are still unknown. And poor J. Lo; no one seems to care if she visited the White House, except maybe her husband Marc Anthony.

Follow me on Twitter @EmilyMillerDC

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