Jewish World Review Feb. 13, 2004 / 21 Shevat, 5764

Robert Stewart

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Consumer Reports

Kerry swings at Bush, hits Clinton | As John Kerry's primary victories increase, so too do his endorsements from leading political figures. But there is one senior Democrat that might not be so quick to jump on the bandwagon: Bill Clinton.

While attempting to paint the Bush administration as a breeding ground for "revolving-door" special interests that loot the American treasury and destroy democracy, he instead pointed the finger at senior members of Clinton's White House staff-more than half of whom left the White House for the lucrative world of lobbying the federal government. Though unintentional-and largely unreported-he reminded the political world of the revolving door that was the Clinton administration.

One of Kerry's biggest applause lines on the stump is an attack on the "special interests" he sees behind every door at the White House: "We're coming. You're going. And don't let the door hit you on the way out." And he regularly vows in stump speeches that within the first hundred days of his administration, he will sign an executive order to reinstate the five-year ban on lobbying by former administration officials. He says the ban is needed to prevent officials "like Bush's former campaign manager and FEMA director" from "peddling influence."

Kerry's anti-corruption rhetoric is not a new theme; special interests are not a new bogeyman for politicians. The last democrat to win the White House made a similar effort. On his first day in office, Bill Clinton signed Executive Order No.12834, which blocked administration officials from lobbying former colleagues for five years from the time they left their position. It was his first executive order, and it was intended to send a message that his was an ethical and special interest-free administration.

But in a last-minute move-and without the fanfare of his first day's executive order-Clinton rescinded EO No.12834, allowing members of his outgoing administration to begin lobbying within one year, rather than the five years he thought appropriate when he took office. In a statement, White House Counsel, Beth Nolan, said, "The President believes that the Executive Order has served its purpose," and that "the President has determined that his senior appointees will no longer be subject to the requirements of the Executive Order after January 20, 2001."

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And what became of these senior appointees? Many are now involved in the dreaded "peddling influence" business. Clinton's own FEMA director, James Lee Witt, went on to lead James Lee Witt Associates, which provides "strategic advisory services."

John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff, went on to become a mega-lobbyist with PodestaMattoon before leading the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. And Rodney Slater, Clinton's secretary of Transportation, went on to become a partner with lobbying powerhouse Patton Boggs. His bio leaves little doubt as to his value to the firm and its clients: "Mr. Slater's focus is on many of the public policy and transportation objectives that were set under his leadership." He left the administration in January 2001, and joined Patton Boggs later that same year. Under Kerry's proposal, and Clinton's original rule, he would be forbidden from lobbying until 2006.

Witt, Podesta and Slater are not alone. According to a study released in March 2003 by the Center for Public Integrity, 51 of 100 senior Clinton administration officials went on to lobby the government or are employed by firms which lobby the government.

Are these 51 the peddlers Kerry is looking to cleanse from the capital? He's described such "revolving door" lobbyists as harmful to our democracy and counter to the will of the people. Yet he is oddly silent on the role Podesta and others play in the corruption he hopes to remove from the nation's capital. Are they or are they not part of the special interest cabal that's "on the way out?"

If Kerry is serious about the need to keep former administration's out of the lobbyist pool for five years, then he doesn't have far to look: K Street is well-populated with Clinton's staff, cabinet secretaries and regulatory officials. None are included in Kerry's speeches. It is unlikely that will change, giving credence to the idea that Kerry is not against all special interests-just those who support the Bush administration.

JWR contributor Robert Stewart, a former Army intelligence analyst, is now a writer based in Washington, D.C. Comment by clicking here.


02/03/04: The coming anti-lobbyist lobby?
12/30/03: Bush Doctrine, often derided, is paying dividends in peace
11/24/03: Isolationism does not breed immunity
11/10/03: President Bush, like Eisenhower before him, is signaling the beginning of a new epoch
10/21/03: Is this war being won? You bet, just don't ask the congressman with the embarrassingly bad timing

© 2003, Robert Stewart