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By Catharine Richert January 28, 2010

Obama says lobbyists have been excluded from policy-making jobs

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touted his efforts to bar lobbyists from his administration.

"We've excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions," he said on Jan. 27, 2010.

That rang a bell with us because we have tracked a campaign promise he made on that topic. He had promised that "No political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration."

We rated that one a Promise Broken because his policy has substantial loopholes that have allowed Obama to essentially decide when he wants to ignore the rule.

He's right that on his first day in office, he signed an executive order to bar lobbyists from his administration.

But the order also included a loophole — a "waiver" clause that allows former lobbyists to serve. Waivers are granted by the administration itself, so they are little more than the administration saying it's okay for the lobbyist to work for the administration. The executive order says a waiver may be granted if "the literal application of the restriction is inconsistent with the purposes of the restriction" or "it is in the public interest. ... The public interest shall include, but not be limited to, exigent circumstances relating to national security or to the economy." Another provision allows lobbyists to serve if they agree to recuse themselves from discussions related to their former jobs.

Still, open government groups have given Obama high marks for reducing the number of lobbyists at the White House and for making the process more transparent than other administrations.

"I think that by any fair measure ... the reported number is certainly much fewer," said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center. "In fact, I'd say the waivers are good. It allows them to go in and say, 'Here's someone we think has unique skills.' "

One of the first Obama appointees to get a waiver was William J. Lynn to be deputy secretary of defense, the No. 2 position at the Pentagon. Lynn was a Raytheon lobbyist for six years, lobbying extensively on a broad range of defense-related issues.

Jocelyn Frye, director of policy and projects in the Office of the First Lady, also got a waiver. Previously, Frye lobbied for the National Partnership for Women and Families from 2001 to 2008. The organization advocates for fairness in the workplace, access to health care and "policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family."

And Cecilia Muñoz, director of intergovernmental affairs in the Executive Office of the President, manages the White House's relationships with state and local governments and is a principal liaison to the Hispanic community. Formerly, Muñoz formerly lobbied for National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.

The White House has issued seven waivers to its ethics rules, which apply to lobbyists as well as to people who served as officers and directors of a company or organization. And agencies have issued 15. The White House has said these waivers are quite rare -- less than 1 percent of the thousands of appointments that have been made.

What about those recusals we mentioned earlier? The administration has not made public how many of these have been issued. We do know that Mark Patterson, the chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, took one -- but that information was only released by the White House after lawmakers and media reports started asking questions. Public records show Patterson worked as a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs in 2008.

Obama said that he has "excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs." But that's not the case. We know of at least four that have taken on policymaking roles in the Obama administration -- Frye's title even contains the word "policy." While these appointments may be few and far between, and while those who made the cut have signed special waivers, we give Obama a False on this claim.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Democracy 21, A Report Card on the Obama Administration's Executive Branch Lobbying, Ethics and Transparency Reforms in 2009, accessed Jan. 27, 2010

The Politico, Obama Finds Room for Lobbyists, by Kenneth P. Vogel and Mike Allen, Jan. 30, 2009

U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Memo on ethics waivers , Feb. 23, 2009

U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Memo on ethics pledge , Feb. 10, 2009

The Huffington Post, William Lynn, Obama's First Ethics Exception, Causing Massive Headaches, by Sam Stein, Jan. 23, 2009

The White House blog, Ethics Update, March 10, 2009

The White House blog, An Update on Waivers, Sept. 4, 2009

The White House blog, Lobbyists on Agency Boards and Commissions, Sept. 23, 2009

The Washington Post, Lobbyists pushed off advisory panels, by Dan Eggen, Nov. 27, 2009

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Obama says lobbyists have been excluded from policy-making jobs

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