The New York Times buries the lede in its story about how the White House has avoided getting publicly linked to lobbyists after making them an issue during the presidential campaign of 2008. Eric Lichtblau takes a break from exposing national-security secrets to expose the practice of making the local Caribou Coffee an extension of the White House in order to meet with lobbyists in an environment without those pesky Secret Service logs, which is bad enough for an administration that keeps dislocating its shoulder from constantly patting itself on the back on transparency. However, the real story may be that the White House is breaking laws intended on keeping records of all official business in the executive branch:
White House officials said there was nothing improper about the off-site meetings.
“The Obama administration has taken unprecedented steps to increase the openness and transparency of the White House,” said Dan Pfeiffer, director of communications. “We expect that all White House employees adhere to their obligations under our very stringent ethics rules regardless of who they are meeting with or where they meet.”
Attempts to put distance between the White House and lobbyists are not limited to meetings. Some lobbyists say that they routinely get e-mail messages from White House staff members’ personal accounts rather than from their official White House accounts, which can become subject to public review. Administration officials said there were some permissible exceptions to a federal law requiring staff members to use their official accounts and retain the correspondence.
Do those “permissible exceptions” include dealing with lobbyists? I’d have to buy the Brooklyn Bridge before I’d accept that explanation. It seems to me that communications on matters of policy with lobbyists — or anyone else — was the explicit intention of Congress to capture for the historical record.
But really, it’s worse than that. Using personal e-mail accounts to communicate with lobbyists is an intentional evasion of those sunlight laws, regardless whether it can be bent into an exception or not. Why does the Obama administration, which unfairly and hyperbolically demonized all lobbyists both before and after taking office, feel the need to keep those communications from eventual public review? What exactly are they hiding?
I’m not sure, but I’d bet a Caribou latte that it’s not pleasant. And a Caribou latte might have more transparency than this Hope and Change White House.