Saturday, February 26, 2011


Politico says it has uncovered a stubborn little detail about the Obama administration’s practices regarding meeting with lobbyists. Sources, including actual lobbyists, tell the news outlet the administration regularly meets with them outside the White House — in a nearby complex — in order to hide the meetings from visitor logs and the public.

Politico opens its report this way:

Caught between their boss’ anti-lobbyist rhetoric and the reality of governing, President Barack Obama’s aides often steer meetings with lobbyists to a complex just off the White House grounds — and several of the lobbyists involved say they believe the choice of venue is no accident.

It allows the Obama administration to keep these lobbyist meetings shielded from public view — and out of Secret Service logs kept on visitors to the White House and later released to the public.

Administration officials denied the allegation to Politico, saying that the meeting place in question — the Jackson Place complex (which is a group of row houses) just off Lafayette Square — has legitimate meeting rooms.

“The White House conference facilities are just that: facilities for large meetings. They are also an option when rooms inside the complex don’t have the capacity for a given meeting or are booked,” White House spokesman Reid Cherlin told Politico.

That’s true. According to administration, the extra meeting space is used when the White House is full or when there’s no time to clear attendees through security.

But at least four lobbyists involved in such meetings tell Politico “they had the distinct impression they were being shunted off to Jackson Place — and off the books — so their visits wouldn’t later be made public.”

“Without question, I think that there’s a lot of concern about being seen meeting with the same lobbyists or particular lobbyists over and over again,” one business lobbyist, who’s attended such meetings, told Politico.

Politico notes other reports that a nearby Caribou coffee shop also serves an off-site meeting place.

Considering Obama’s propensity to rail against lobbyists, some are confused and even offended.

“Lobbyists are particularly stung by what they see as a double standard,” Politico says, “with Obama bashing their profession as part of what’s wrong with Washington while his staff routinely sits down with lobbyists to discuss key issues.”

“When they need us, they call us. When they don’t, we’re evil,” another lobbyist told the news outlet, who has also been to Jackson Place meetings.

At least one lobbyist scoffs at the idea that the meetings take place outside the White House because of necessity.

“My understanding was they were holding the meeting there because it included several high-level business and trade association lobbyists,” a senior business lobbyist who attended a meeting about immigration reform last year recalled. “This was an effort to not have to go through the security protocols at the White House which could lead to the visitor logs at some point being released to the public and embarrass the president.”

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