Visitor Logs Show Lobbyists Welcome at White House
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By T.W. FARNAM,
The Washington Post
May 20, 2012

Before 9 a.m., a group of lobbyists began showing up at the White House security gates with the chief executives of their companies, all of whom serve on President Obama’s jobs council, to be checked in for a roundtable with the president.

At 1 p.m., a dozen representatives from the meat industry arrived for a briefing in the New Executive Office Building. At 3 p.m., a handful of lobbyists were lining up for a ceremony honoring the 2011 World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.

And at 4 p.m., a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs arrived in the Old Executive Office Building for a meeting with Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

It was an unremarkable January day, with a steady stream of lobbyists among the thousands of daily visitors to the White House and the surrounding executive office buildings, according to a Washington Post analysis of visitor logs released by the administration. The Post matched visits with lobbying registrations and connected records in the visitor database to show who participated in the meetings, information now available in a search engine on the Post’s web site.

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The visitor logs for January 17 — one of the most recent days available — show that the lobbying industry Obama has vowed to constrain is a regular presence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The records also suggest that lobbyists with personal connections to the White House enjoy the easiest access.

More than any president before him, Obama pledged to change the political culture that has fueled the influence of lobbyists. He barred recent lobbyists from joining his administration and banned them from advisory boards throughout the executive branch. The president went so far as to forbid what had been staples of political interaction — federal employees could no longer accept free admission to receptions and conferences sponsored by lobbying groups. “A lot of folks,” Obama said last month, “see the amounts of money that are being spent and the special interests that dominate and the lobbyists that always have access, and they say to themselves, maybe I don’t count.”

The White House visitor records make it clear that Obama’s senior officials are granting that access to some of K Street’s most influential representatives. In many cases, those lobbyists have long-standing connections to the president or his aides. Republican lobbyists coming to visit are rare, while Democratic lobbyists are common, whether they are representing corporate clients or liberal causes.

Lobbyist Marshal Matz, for example, who served as an unpaid adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign, has been to the White House roughly two dozen times in the past 21 / 2 years. He has brought along the general counsel for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the chief executive of cereal maker General Mills and pro bono clients, including advocates for farmers in Africa.

In April 2011, Matz came to the Old Executive Office Building with the owner of Beef Products Inc. to meet with Robin Schepper, a woman he has known for years who heads Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign. The company owner argued that one of his products should be promoted for school lunches, according to two participants in the meeting.

Matz, like most of the lobbyists contacted for comment, declined to be interviewed. But Howard Hedstrom, a Minnesota sawmill owner and president of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition that hired Matz, said: “I appreciate Marshall’s ability to have access. . . . He opened the door, but basically the conversation was carried by those of us who know the issues.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz referred in a statement to Obama’s “unparalleled commitment to reforming Washington” and noted that this is the first administration to release the visitor records. “The people selected for this article are registered lobbyists, but this article excludes the thousands of people who visit the White House every week for meetings and events who are not,” he said. “Our goal has been to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington — which we’ve done more than any Administration in history.”

Acting on a pledge to make government more transparent, Obama released the visitor logs, although he did so to settle a lawsuit seeking the records. The administration publishes the information monthly, with a three-month delay, so the latest information is from January.

The lack of a list from previous administrations makes it impossible to know whether paid advocates have more or less access than in the past.