To the People

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Obamacracy Update, Pt IV: Day of the Living Lobbyists

Via the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama has imposed stricter conflict-of-interest restrictions on his White House transition team than any president before him. But a list of transition team members that his office made public on Friday includes a complicated tangle of ties to private influence-seekers.

Among the full roster of about 150 staff members being assigned to government agencies between now and Inauguration Day are dozens of former lobbyists and some who were registered as recently as this year. Many more are executives and partners at firms that pay lobbyists, and former government officials who work as consultants or advisers to those seeking influence.
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Some appear to skirt the edges of the ban on working in areas of the transition where they have recently lobbied. Handling some Interior Department issues is Keith Harper, who lobbied earlier this year for Native American tribes. Overseeing the Consumer Products Safety Commission is Pamela Gilbert, a former executive director of the agency who as recently as two years ago lobbied for a consumer advocacy group. Within the last year she has lobbied for the company Barr Laboratories, for an investor group, and for an antitrust enforcement group.

Among the group handling the Justice Department and civil rights areas of the transition is Theodore Shaw, a litigator for an arm of the N.A.A.C.P. He has registered as a lobbyist for the group in the past, but N.A.A.C.P. officials say he has not lobbied in the past 12 months.
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Several of the officials have ties to Fannie Mae, the government-backed mortgage firm whose implosion this fall contributed to the financial meltdown. Thomas Donilon, overseeing the State Department, is a partner in the law and lobbying firm O’Melveny and Myers who until three years ago lobbied for Fannie Mae. Wendy R. Sherman, the other official charged with reviewing the State Department, once headed Fannie Mae’s charitable foundation. And James Johnson, a former top officer of Fannie Mae, is on the economics and international trade team, charged with reviewing the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.

Even Mr. Lu, the transition’s executive director charged with policing potential conflicts of interests, may have his own appearance problems. His wife, Kathryn Thomson, is a lawyer who represents corporate clients dealing with federal environmental regulations, while his older brother, Curtis Lu, is a top lawyer for Fannie Mae. (Such family connections may not be disqualifying conflicts depending on the nature of the transition job, ethics lawyers said.)

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