So far, though, at least a dozen former lobbyists have found top jobs in his administration, according to an analysis by Republican sources and corroborated by Politico.
Obama aides did not challenge the analysis, but they stressed that former lobbyists comprise a fraction of the more than 8,000 employees who will be hired by the new administration.
And they point to a more nuanced policy on former lobbyists, outlined early in the campaign and formalized in a recently issued executive order forbidding executive branch employees from working in an agency, or on a program, for which they lobbied in the last two years.
Yet in the past few days, a number of exceptions have been granted, with the administration conceding at least two waivers and that a handful of other appointees will recuse themselves from dealing with matters on which they lobbied within the two-year window.
“It would be more honest if they admitted they made a mistake and came up with a narrower rule,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Obviously, they can’t live with the rule, which is why they keep waving the magic wand and making exceptions. They’re saying one thing and doing another. It’s why the public is skeptical about politicians.”
But another watchdog, Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, praised Obama’s rules as “a good starting place” and urged patience in judging their efficacy.
“Any good set of ethics rules has the opportunity for waivers, but if the waivers become the rule, rather than the exception, then you have to look at whether the waivers are being sought too frequently or whether there’s a problem with the rule,” McGehee said. “I don’t think we’re at that point yet.”
At the White House, spokesman Tommy Vietor insisted the president has been consistent.
“During the campaign, then-Sen. Obama put forth the toughest ethics and lobbying reform policy in history,” Vietor said, “and now he’s acting on it to reduce the influence of lobbyists in Washington.”
Here are former lobbyists Obama has tapped for top jobs:
Eric Holder, attorney general nominee, was registered to lobby until 2004 on behalf of clients including Global Crossing, a bankrupt telecommunications firm.
Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture nominee, was registered to lobby as recently as last year on behalf of the National Education Association.
William Lynn, deputy defense secretary nominee, was registered to lobby as recently as last year for defense contractor Raytheon, where he was a top executive.
William Corr, deputy health and human services secretary nominee, was registered to lobby until last year for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a non-profit that pushes to limit tobacco use.
David Hayes, deputy interior secretary nominee, was registered to lobby until 2006 for clients, including the regional utility San Diego Gas & Electric.
Mark Patterson, chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, was registered to lobby as recently as last year for financial giant Goldman Sachs.
Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, was registered to lobby until 2005 for clients, including the Coalition for Asbestos Resolution, U.S. Airways, Airborne Express and drug-maker ImClone.
Mona Sutphen, deputy White House chief of staff, was registered to lobby for clients, including Angliss International in 2003.
Melody Barnes, domestic policy council director, lobbied in 2003 and 2004 for liberal advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the American Constitution Society and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Cecilia Munoz, White House director of intergovernmental affairs, was a lobbyist as recently as last year for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group.
Patrick Gaspard, White House political affairs director, was a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union.
Michael Strautmanis, chief of staff to the president’s assistant for intergovernmental relations, lobbied for the American Association of Justice from 2001 until 2005.