Where will Obama draw lobbyist line?

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama addresses supporters during Iowa caucus

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal:
Barack Obama's made the first hire of his new administration. Democratic officials confirmed today that Chicago Congressman Rahm Emanuel has signed on as Obama's chief of staff.

That makes it one down, hundreds of top jobs left to fill and 10 weeks to do it. Which poses a distinctly political question:

Some of the best-qualified applicants for those jobs -- people who've been around Washington for a long time and know how it works -- are lobbyists or they have ties to them. But since Obama spent all that time bashing lobbyists while he was out on the campaign trail, how's he going to turn around now and hire them?

From Washington, Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


Nancy Marshall Genzer:
Lobbyists were a convenient political football for Obama during the presidential campaign. He served up some anti-lobbyist rhetoric just last month, to a cheering crowd.

Tape of Barack Obama:
They will not run my White House. You'll help me run my White House, when I'm president.

Obama has said he'll restrict the role of lobbyists in his White House. Is that realistic? New York University professor Paul Light says probably not. He's an expert on presidential transitions.

Paul Light: You can't throw a rock in Washington and not hit somebody who isn't benefiting in some way by lobbying within their organization.

But do you want them a stone's throw away from the Oval Office? Steve Elmendorf says maybe. He's a Democratic lobbyist.

Steve Elmendorf: There are labor lobbyists, there are environmental lobbyists, that have substantive expertise on the issues that you're trying to deal with.

Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution says, if you exclude lobbyists, you'll have a hard time getting anything done.

Stephen Hess: You could bring in all sorts of terrific people. But they don't necessarily know, let's say, how to get a bill through Congress.

What's the solution? NYU's Paul Light says Obama is likely to use a narrow definition of who's a lobbyist. He would exclude only those who formally registered as lobbyists with Congress. Light says Obama isn't likely to broaden the definition to include, say, lawyers who aren't registered lobbyists themselves but whose firms lobby. If he did:

Light: He probably wouldn't be able to recruit an administration.

And that would be a problem.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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