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Rules of the Game: Obama's Ethics Agenda Backfires

“They encouraged deregistrations, which was exactly the opposite of that he was trying to accomplish at the time, which was transparency,” said Howard Marlowe, president of Marlowe & Co. and immediate past president of the American League of Lobbyists.

The same complaint was leveled about the White House visitor logs, particularly after The New York Times disclosed that many administration officials had started conveniently meeting with visitors at coffee shops across the street from the White House.

The list goes on. Obama installed ethics champion Norm Eisen at the White House as special counsel for ethics and government reform, but when Eisen left to be ambassador to the Czech Republic in 2011, he was not replaced. Corporate money was theoretically banned from the Democratic National Convention but found its way in through irregular channels. By the time the FEC slapped a record $375,000 fine on the Obama campaign for failing to fully disclose donations in 2008, even his critics barely batted an eye.

“Truthfully, the president just hasn’t tried,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which unsuccessfully petitioned the White House to fill vacancies at the FEC.

John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, was more charitable, saying Obama made “meaningful” strides toward transparency. “I think he just got accustomed to making tradeoffs,” Wonderlich said. “And the president’s power to do things in the world is restricted by Congress, and the need to be re-elected. So I think it was just a matter of choosing power over principle.”

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