Monday, April 16, 2012

You Can't Lobby Obama

You have to conduct a dialogue with him.
Want to get a meeting with the White House? Just don’t call it lobbying.

President Barack Obama promised early in 2009 that he would usher in new limits on special-interest influence peddling on his watch, enacting tough disclosure rules that created an anti-lobbyist climate in town.
But some Washington insiders have figured out how to work the new system. Case in point: A nonprofit called Business Forward can boast of setting up an average of three meetings a week between top White House officials and business leaders, and member companies like Microsoft, Visa and Hilton.
 The strategy: The meetings, with top officials like Cass Sunstein and Jack Lew, are billed as “dialogues.” It’s an approach that plays well with former academics in the administration who prefer a discussion with a special interest groups to a meeting with a hired gun.

Business Forward and a similar group, the Common Purpose Project, say the meetings don’t violate any rules and aren’t even lobbying in the traditional sense. But the companies funding Business Forward and the wealthy donors that subsidize CPP ’s operation are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year in large part because of what they offer: special access.
Patrick J. Kennedy, the former representative from Rhode Island, who donated $35,800 to an Obama re-election fund last fall while seeking administration support for a nonprofit venture, said contributions were simply a part of “how this business works.” 
 
“If you want to call it ‘quid pro quo,’ fine,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure I do my part.”
 

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