Obama Pledges Stronger Lobbying Reforms

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2007

MANCHESTER, N.H., June 22 -- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has promised a "different kind of campaign," one that hovers above the political fray. And so on Friday, after a week of contentious exchanges between his campaign and those of his Democratic rivals, Obama returned to talking about his reformist agenda.

Obama promised to curb lobbyists' influence from his first day as president. Declaring there is "more cleaning up to do in Washington," he said he would ban political appointees in his administration from lobbying the executive branch after leaving their jobs. And anyone joining his administration would not be allowed to work on issues related to their former employers for at least two years.

"When I am president, I will make it absolutely clear that working in an Obama administration is not about serving your former employer, your future employer or your bank account -- it's about serving your country, and that's what comes first," Obama told supporters at the New Hampshire Community Technical College here.

"A lot of people have told me this is pretty tough, but I refuse to accept the Washington logic that you cannot find thousands of talented, patriotic Americans willing to devote a few years to their country without the promise of a lucrative lobbying job when they're done. I know we can find them," Obama said.

Aware of how vague and process-oriented the notion of "government reform" sounds, Obama and his advisers said revising the government would have measurable results.

"The people I've met all across the country don't just want reform for reform's sake," he said. "They're not just do-gooders. They want reform that will help pay their doctor's bills, they want reform to ensure that their tax dollars are spent wisely, they want reform to put us on the path to energy independence. They want real reform, and they're tired of the lobbyists standing in the way."

Obama cited, as an example, the no-bid contracts given to companies with Bush administration ties to clean up after Hurricane Katrina and in Iraq, wasting money that could have been spent on housing for displaced residents of New Orleans or protection for soldiers, as concrete effects of government dysfunction.

Obama's rhetoric about turning his back on traditional politics has made him a target for rival campaigns alert to any contradictory behavior. After the campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) obtained an opposition research memo circulated by Obama's staff that outlined her record on outsourcing and her ties to India, referring to her as the senator from Punjab, Obama was forced to apologize.

Asked to respond to the Obama speech on Friday, a Clinton campaign spokesman offered information anonymously but declined to comment on the record. Several outside experts reacted positively to Obama's proposals for revamping government activity, though some of them resemble legislation passed by the Senate earlier this year.

"I think it's a very serious proposal," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan advocacy group that monitors government and campaign finance issues. "It brings into play in the presidential campaign a set of issues that are always underestimated in Washington but that have had a lot of resonance in past presidential and congressional midterm elections."

Craig Holman, the campaign finance lobbyist for the advocacy group Public Citizen, also praised Obama's proposal as broad and substantive. He said that while Clinton offered her own reform proposal in April and voted for an ethics package in the Senate that is being reconciled with its House counterpart, Obama had made a stronger push to put lobbying reform at the core of his candidacy.

"The big difference is that Obama's actually taken all these positions and put them together as a platform," Holman said. "Hillary has not been as specific."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company