White House Accused of Violating Disclosure Laws With "Off-Campus" Lobbyist Meetings

Joe Schoffstall | June 29, 2010
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The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog group, says the White House is committing "willful violations" of federal and presidential records acts, along with violating disclosure laws, and is calling for a congressional oversight hearing into administration officials meetings with lobbyists. The problem arises from White House officials having met with K- Street lobbyists hundreds of times over the past 18 months at “off-campus” coffee shops. Some lobbyists claimed they frequently receive e-mails from White House staff members’ personal accounts, rather than from their official White House accounts. CREW says this is "an apparent attempt to bypass disclosure rules." The matter was first brought to the attention of CREW through a June 24 article in the New York Times titled, "Across From White House, Coffee With Lobbyists". "Friday's New York Times article reveals that the Obama administration is not living up to its promise. At the same time, the White House has been touting its voluntary disclosure of visitor logs as proof of its commitment to a transparent and accountable government, top aides--including (ironically) the president's ethic's advisor-- have been meeting with lobbyists at non-governmental locations, including a coffee shop catty-corner to the White House, for the sole purpose of avoiding the creation of any record that evidence those meetings", CREW stated in a letter sent to Chairman Towns and Ranking Member Issa on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Two lobbyists also told the Times there have been instances in which the White House has suggested job candidates be “deregistered” as a lobbyist in Senate records to bypass the administrations hiring restrictions. Critics say these practices go against Obama’s pledge to be the most ‘transparent administration ever.’ The letter to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform concludes, “A congressional investigation of this matter is justified simply by the apparent willful violations of federal law. It is all the more imperative given that the Obama White House has frequently expressed its disdain for lobbyists and has regularly claimed to be committed to reducing the undue influence of special interests in Washington. By having off-the-record meetings and e-mail exchanges with lobbyists, the White House is attempting to reap the benefits of conversations and interactions with knowledgeable lobbyists while publicly promoting the belief that the White House maintains a discreet distance from those very same lobbyists."