Jim Manley, a former senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and now a senior director with QGA Public Affairs, agreed that Obama won’t make big policy changes toward K Street.
“That’s the problem with taking such a hard-line position,” Manley said. “It’s difficult to change later on, despite the fact that you’re keeping many good people from serving in the administration.”
Adam Smith, a spokesman with Public Campaign, which advocates public financing of campaigns, said he doesn’t expect new restrictions on lobbyists, either. But he’d like to see the president go even further when it comes to money-in-politics matters.
“During the campaign he talked a really big game about needing to have small donors to overcome super PACs,” he said. “Then he just says I’m not going to have lobbyists in my administration, and a lot of times that’s just window dressing.”
Nick Allard, who previously led the lobby unit at Patton Boggs and is now dean of the Brooklyn Law School, said the president has more pressing matters — such as gun control, immigration and fiscal legislation — than the policy of K Street.
“I think there will be more focus on getting things done in the second term and less focus on the arcane subject of lobbying rules,” Allard said. “They’re going to focus on real issues and real problems, not phony ones.”
Allard noted, too, that the bashing of lobbyists breeds distrust in government and that what Obama needs to do over the next four years is build confidence in the integrity of the system.
“It’s actually harmful to promote the canard that you can buy results in Washington and that our public officials are somehow duped by hypnotic influence peddlers,” Allard said.
But Monte Ward, the new president of the American League of Lobbyists, said he expects more of the same when it comes to Obama’s rhetoric. Behind the scenes, though, the administration may be in on the joke.
“I have gotten the sense they recognize the role lobbyists play, and the expertise some lobbyists have,” Ward added. “But I don’t know for sure.”
Last March, the league sent a letter to the White House asking for a meeting to discuss lobbying reforms Obama and the lobbyists could potentially agree on, such as closing a loophole that allows some advocates to skirt the lobbying disclosure system. Ward said his group hasn’t heard back yet. He’s going to try again this week.
“We plan on sending a letter to congratulate him on his inauguration and then offer to meet with him again,” Ward said.