In Defense of Lobbyists

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In the days after the November election, Obama’s advisers announced “the strictest, and most far reaching ethics rules of any transition team in history.” These rules included a ban on lobbyists joining the new administration.

Why would political ethics demand such a prohibition? According to Obama’s transition team, the new policy sought to curb the influence of “special interests” and to “stop the revolving door” between those interests and seats of political power.

But a recent story by American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop has shown that Obama’s lobbyist ban, even if it were absolute (it isn’t), is far too narrow to fulfill its goals:

Nancy-Ann DeParle, President Barack Obama’s health policy czar, served as a director of corporations that faced scores of federal investigations, whistleblower lawsuits and other regulatory actions, according to government records reviewed by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University.

Several of the companies were investigated for alleged kickbacks or engaging in other illegal billing schemes, while others were accused of serious violations of federal quality standards, including one company that failed to warn patients of deadly problems with an implanted heart defibrillator. Several of the cases ended with substantial fines paid to the federal government, even though the companies admitted no wrongdoing.

Since leaving her government job running Medicare for the Clinton administration, DeParle built a lucrative private-sector career. Records show she earned more than $6.6 million since early 2001, according to a tally by the Investigative Reporting Workshop.

Be sure to read all the gory details.

Even if DeParle directed healthcare companies that hadn’t been implicated in corrupt practices, why wouldn’t her appointment raise the same questions as hiring a lobbyist? After all, a lobbyist is only a middleman between special interests and persons in power. A director of a healthcare corporation, on the other hand, is a special interest.

UPDATE: It’s also worth noting that DeParle was one of the few named invited guests to the scandalous Washington Post healthcare pay-for-play dinner that was to be hosted at the house of Publisher Katharine Weymouth and sponsored by Kaiser-Permanente.

For more on that story, click here, here, and here.

UPDATE 2: For another example, consider Ignacia Moreno, Obama’s nominee to head the environmental section of the Justice Department. Her previous employment? Defending GE and other companies from EPA lawsuits.

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