The New York Times runs an exposé of sorts on the Obama White House and its empty promises of changing “business as usual” in Washington DC that is remarkable in a number of respects. As Daniel Halper of The Weekly Standard writes, though, the most remarkable might be the remarkable honesty of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), who offers us a Madge-Palmolive moment by not only admitting that the administration has a quid pro quo system, but also that he’s soaking in it:
Patrick J. Kennedy, the former representative from Rhode Island, who donated $35,800 to an Obama re-election fund last fall while seeking administration support for a nonprofit venture, said contributions were simply a part of “how this business works.”
“If you want to call it ‘quid pro quo,’ fine,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure I do my part.”
Mr. Kennedy visited the White House several times to win support for One Mind for Research, his initiative to help develop new treatments for brain disorders. While his family name and connections are clearly influential, he said, he knows White House officials are busy. And as a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he said he was keenly aware of the political realities they face.
The NYT’s Mike McIntyre and Michael Luo report that the Obama White House insists that they don’t take lobbyist money and don’t grant access to lobbyists — at least not directly. However, McIntyre and Luo describe how lobbyists do get into the White House. Call it the Lobbyist Buddy System, as they partner with big-time donors to become plus-ones to the West Wing:
Although Mr. Obama has made a point of not accepting contributions from registered lobbyists, a review of campaign donations and White House visitor logs shows that special interests have had little trouble making themselves heard. Many of the president’s biggest donors, while not lobbyists, took lobbyists with them to the White House, while others performed essentially the same function on their visits.
More broadly, the review showed that those who donated the most to Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party since he started running for president were far more likely to visit the White House than others. Among donors who gave $30,000 or less, about 20 percent visited the White House, according to a New York Times analysis that matched names in the visitor logs with donor records. But among those who donated $100,000 or more, the figure rises to about 75 percent. Approximately two-thirds of the president’s top fund-raisers in the 2008 campaign visited the White House at least once, some of them numerous times.
The reasons someone might have gained access to the White House and made a donation are wide-ranging, and it is clear that in some cases the administration came down against the policies being sought by the visitors. But the regular appearance of big donors inside the White House underscores how political contributions continue to lubricate many of the interactions between officials and their guests, if for no other reason than that donors view the money as useful for getting a foot in the door.
One can argue that this isn’t all that much different than other Republican and Democratic administrations. The article recalls the infamous Lincoln Bedroom “rentals” of the Clinton administration, for instance. However, Clinton didn’t run for the office by demonizing lobbyists and wealthy donors and insisting that he would provide a New Purity to the Beltway, either. In 2008, that was almost the entire message from Obama, who had no executive, military, or foreign-relations experience before running for the one position that requires expertise in all three areas.
I’m not certain that the Obama White House has been any less transparent about influence peddling, but it has certainly not been more transparent. All we got was an inexperienced executive and a boatload of sanctimony and hypocrisy.