Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Obama Agenda: Ethics

Today we continue our walk through Obama’s agenda by examining the issue of ethics. Stop laughing. Obama, like every other recent administration, promised to be the most ethical administration in history -- a pledge he broke, like his predecessors, the minute his implant-laden booty hit the big chair. Now, he’s paying a heavy price for this, as ethics have climbed to the top of voters concerns about his administration.

Promises Ignored

Let’s knock out the easy ones first. These are the promises Obama made that he ignored after he took office, i.e. no action taken:
• To issue an executive order that requires all new hires to affirm that no political appointee offered them the job “solely” on the basis of political affiliation or contribution.

• Issue an executive order banning registered lobbyists from giving gifts in any amount or in any form to executive branch employees.

• To end “the abuse” of no-bid contracts by requiring that all contracts be competitively awarded.

• To require his appointees to conduct significant business in public, so that any citizen can see in person or watch on the internet.

• To create a “contracts and influence” database that will disclose to the public how much federal contractors spend on lobbying.

• To create a central database of lobbying reports, ethics records and campaign finance filings, so that people can easily see what is going in their government.

• To seek an independent watchdog agency to investigate congressional ethics violations.
Promises Broken

Now let’s look at the more problematic ones. These are the ones where Obama took action, but not the kind he said he would. These are the ones he’s been breaking left and right. Most of these deal with lobbyists or transparency:
• Obama promised he would not accept contributions from Washington lobbyists and political action committees.
But he did. In fact, he received a ton of money from these very people. For example, among his list of “bundlers” (i.e. people who gather contributions from groups of people or organizations (think "personal PAC")), you would find directors of Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Capital Partners, Landmark Partners, various hedge funds, Merrill Lynch, New Century Financial, and UBS among many others.

And Obama wasn’t shy about rewarding his top donors with VIP access to the White House, private briefings with the administration advisors and invitations to events. Examples of the privilege that came with giving bribes. . . er contributions, include:

USB CEO Robert Wolf, Obama’s top contributor, who got to golf with Obama in Martha’s Vineyard. Thirty-nine donors who were treated to a lavish St. Patrick’s Day celebration. One donor got a birthday visit to the Oval Office. Another got to take his family bowling in the White House. Others get to watch movies with Obama. No word if they all snuggled together as Obama picked $1,000 bills out of their underwear, but it sounds likely. Other donors received a personal visit from deputy chief of staff Jim Messina who flew to Los Angeles and San Francisco to provide in-person briefings on Obama’s health care plans.

Obama assigned Chicago lawyer David Jacobson to dole out ambassadorships to his most prolific donors. Jacobson asked each to provide a list of their top six choices and then sorted out the list. Some examples include: music executive Nicole Avant, who became ambassador to the Bahamas, and fundraiser Alan Solomon who got Spain.

Other contributors were appointed to presidential commissions and advisory panels, like the president’s Economic Advisory Board (Pritzker, Wolf) or the Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of the American Latino (Lopez, Pollak). Penny Pritzker, by the way, the Obama campaign finance chair, is the former CEO of a defunct bank that was deep into a subprime lending scam in Chicago. Pritzker wasn’t charged with a crime, but “voluntarily” paid the government $460 million to defray the government’s losses.

On this whole issue, the White House has gone from saying it wasn’t happening, to suggesting that these donors were invited by people other than Obama and the DNC to laughably saying: “I would say that from our reckoning, our research, there are fewer donors getting fewer things, whatever you may call them, from this White House than from any White House in memory.”
• Close the revolving door on former and future employers. And I quote: “No political appointees . . . will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years.”
This was the cornerstone of Obama’s ethics platform, and he’s broken it repeatedly.

Team Obama granted three waivers to former lobbyists, allowing them to serve in the administration (e.g. former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn, who is now deputy secretary for defense; Jocelyn Frye, a lobbyist for the National Partnership for Women; Cecilia Muñoz, a lobbyist for the National Council of La Raza). Moreover, they’ve let them work in areas from wence they came.

But this doesn’t tell the whole story. In some instances, Team Obama hasn’t bothered with the waivers, relying instead on the lobbyist-turned-appointee to recuse themselves from matters on which they worked as lobbyists. This includes, for example, Mark Patterson, the chief of staff to Tim Geithner, who worked as a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs in 2008 and has never obtained a waiver. Determining the exact extent to which Obama has broken this promise is not easy as Team Obama has played games with releasing information about the waivers they’ve granted and the recusals supposedly undertaken.

Now Team Obama is singing a different tune. Apparently, they’ve discovered that some lobbyists are good people and many others bring expertise that you just can’t find elsewhere. Compare that to Obama’s campaign stump speech:
“Make no mistake: We need to end an era in Washington where accountability has been absent, oversight has been overlooked, your tax dollars have been turned over to wealthy CEOs and the well-connected corporations. You need leadership you can trust to work for you, not for the special interests who have had their thumb on the scale. And together, we will tell Washington, and their lobbyists, that their days of setting the agenda are over. They have not funded my campaign. You have. They will not run my White House. You'll help me run my White House.”
Not a true word in the bunch.

Even where Obama appeared to take a tough stance on lobbyists, he ultimately didn’t. Like those serving on the Industry Trade Advisory Committees, which give business leaders a voice in U.S. trade policy. Obama claimed his lobbyist rules applied to these boards. But rather than remove the lobbyists, Obama allowed the lobbyists on these boards to simply drop their certification as lobbyists and stay on the Board.
• Require Congress to post bills on line for 72 hours before voting on them and will make them available to the American public for five days before signing them.
Obama and the Democrats have broken this on virtually ever major bill on which they’ve worked, from the credit card bill to the CHIPs bill to the health care bill. In some instances, they haven’t even given the representatives 72 hours to examine the bill before the vote.
• Make White House communications public.
Obama hasn’t done this either. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to hide visitor logs (something they used to attack Dick Cheney for).
• Nullify Bush attempts to make the release to presidential record more difficult.
Obama hasn’t done this either. In fact, they’ve flat out refused to release Bush-era documents about TARP bailout, and they’ve struggled against FOIA requests by anyone they don’t like.

Further Ethical Deficits

But even beyond his promises, Obama has had serious ethical lapses.

In April, Obama met repeatedly with lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry, the AMA, AARP, the American Cancer Society, the Business Roundtable, Family USA, and the SEIU. All sides officially claim there was no quid pro quo, these groups suddenly decided to support ObamaCare and Obama suddenly decided that they needed tax breaks, needed to have their monopolies protected, needed an additional $250 billion for doctors under Medicare, and needed various other things that Obama handed out like well-paid-for candy. Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that advocates for greater transparency and ethics in government said the meeting “raises issues.”

An interesting side outcome of this meeting was that these groups ended up paying two firms to produce ads. One of these firms, AKPD Message and Media, was founded by David Axelrod, employs one of Axelrod’s sons, and still owes Axelrod $2 million. Smell like bribe?

Team Obama also has been beset by hypocrisy problems. For example, despite his enthusiasm for class warfare, Obama’s cabinet is packed with millionaires, as is 44% of the Congress, compared to 1% of the population at large. Clinton’s net worth is $21 million, SEC Chairwoman Mary Shapiro’s net worth is $26 million. Obama himself is worth $4 million.

Even as late as November 2009, Obama was still appointing officials with tax problems. Obama’s nominee for undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs, Lael Brainard, was the fifth Obama nominee who failed to pay her taxes. She joins Tom Daschle, Timothy Geithner, and others.

Team Obama also has shown an inability to be truthful, like when it was discovered that at least 20% of the 700,000 jobs they claim were “saved or created” were fictitious.

The Democrats Aren’t Helping Either

Nor have the Democrats provided much of an example to offset Obama’s problems. In October, we learned that more than 30 House members, most of them Democrats, were under scrutiny for ethics violations. . . Democrats like Maxine Waters (D-Cal), who used her influence to help a bank in which her husband owned large amounts of stock. Laura Richardson (D-Cal) who received special treatment from a lender. Others were accused of steering appropriations to clients of lobbying firms, from whom the Congresscritter had received a bribe. . . er, campaign contribution. This included nearly half the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. Some of these names included Frank Murtha (D-Pa), Peter Visclosky (D-Ind) and James Moran (D-Va).

And, of course, you had Chris Dodd (D-Conn), who got a sweetheart deal from Countrywide, a mortgage company which he regulated. You had Charlie Rangel (D-NY) who apparently doesn’t pay taxes. He’s also under investigation for his travel, his financial deals, his fundraising and his financial disclosures. And let’s not forget William Jefferson (D-La), who went to prison with a 33 year sentence for bribery, fraud and money laundering.

Basically, you can’t swing a dead voter without striking a Democrat under investigation for corruption. The problem, of course, is that the weasels are investigating themselves.

The effect of all of this is that Obama may go down in history as the most corrupt administration of all time. U.S. Grant must be smiling.


Tennessee Jed said...

Wonderfully researched and laid out, Andrew. You mentioned several comparisons to theBush Administration. We know, of course, how Republicans broke campaign promises which helped in the loss of Congress over time. What is your gut reaction on how the "O" man stacks up historically in this department?

Writer X said...

I did start laughing from the first sentence, Andrew. Ethics and Obama in the same sentence? Excellent summary of what will most assuredly go down as one of the most corrupt administrations in U.S. history.

StanH said...

Andrew this is all good. Ethics mean nothing to ‘60s radicals, and we can plainly see exactly who these statist creatures are. I believe 2010 is going to be a “come to Jesus” election for all of Washington. If this is handled properly by the RNC and the voters we can really begin to drain the swamp.

One of the most insidious things Barry has done is to sign an executive order allowing INTERPOL the ability to investigate and charge within the USA. What’s that about?

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Jed!

In all honesty, I think we've had three of the most corrupt administrations in history in a row right now -- Clinton, Bush and Obama. As a group, they are probably right up there with Grant and the administrations during the Gilded Age. In fact, I think I've said before that the parallels to the Gilded Age and now are eerie.

Of them all, I suspect Grant is still the worst, but I suspect that Obama is probably a close second. Whereas Clinton was about personal gain and the Bush people were about benefiting their contributors, Obama seems to have become a shameless mix of both.

Obama is clearly for sale to all comers.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, Thanks! It is hard not to laugh isn't it?

I think Obama is certainly working on the title of most corrupt. He's also working on the title of worst administration. Carter must be giddy right now that his moment in history is about to be eclipsed.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, You might want to take another look at how 60's radical Obama really is. Would a 60's radical ever hand out tanker ships full of money to Wall Street banks? Were they about remaking the country or paying back rich contributors. . . because Obama's primary concern has been with the second.

He's more Al Capone than Abbie Hoffman.

patti said...

i want to read this thoroughly and most likely will link, after the fever breaks. keep up the good work!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Patti, I hope you feel better!

BevfromNYC said...

"...And together, we will tell Washington, and THEIR lobbyists, that THEIR days of setting the agenda are over. THEY have not funded my campaign. YOU have. THEY will not run my White House. YOU'LL help me run my White House.” [emphasis added]

See, Andrew, the problem is that you interpret the "their" and "they" in this statement to mean the prior evil unethical administrations, and "You" to mean "We the people". What he is really saying is "they" are the old lobbyists, cronies, and campaign contributors and the "You" are Obama's lobbyists, cronies, and contributors. Did you learn nothing from Clinton and the whole "depends on what 'is' is" thing? In this context, he is telling the absolute truth.

AndrewPrice said...

I stand corrected Bev! ;-)

Of course, there is the problem that many of the lobbyists for this administration represent the exact same people as the lobbyists for the prior administration. . .

Unknown said...

Andrew: And let's not forget dear Hilda Solis, the Secretary of Labor, and her direct connections to the SEIU and AFL-CIO. Her secret meetings and pro-union activities while in office are the subject of a federal lawsuit. "Vetting" in the Democratic Senate of cabinet-level appointees is more like "rubber-stamping." The first step toward ridding ourselves of this corrupt administration is clearing out the complcit Senators in 2010 who assist the administration in their ongoing corruption. They're not Senators, they're co-conspirators.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Co-conspirators is right. The Senate is for sale like never before. They should just save everyone time and just publish a price list.

Anonymous said...

liberals can't be happy with this either. they thought they were getting a pure guy but instead they got a crook.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, You're right. They thought they were getting someone who wasn't like other politicians, but in the end Obama goes back to old school Chicago traditions of trading influence for cash.

Skinners 2 Cents said...

My favorite arguing point about this administration is how much it's like the last one especially on hot button issues (any lefties want to argue about the Patriot Act anymore?). Anytime I can draw multiple comparisons between Bush and Obama the lefties heads explode because the honeymoon is over.

What excellent debate ammunition!

Great article, it's tough to keep up with all the broken promises perhaps it would be easier to stick with the ones he's kept ;) Then again you probably wouldn't have anything to write about.

I think this administration have found themselves in a precarious position and with out the usual support system in place to deal with these problems. ACORN, SEIU, NEA all of these organization are now publicly tainted. All they have left is the media and they begrudgingly seem to be slowly waking up from their self induced coma.

2010 will see an incredible implosion in the Democratic Party.

AndrewPrice said...

Skinner, You're absolutely right, nothing bothers the left more than the realization that Obama is doing everything they hated about Bush and then some. It must drive them crazy that they thought they were getting "a new way" and instead they basically got the most old school version of corruption.

I think that 2010 will be an interesting election. If the public decides to back the Republicans, the Democrats could get blown out because I don't see very many Democrats turning out to support their own party. If that happens, we could have a more significant change than we had even in 1994, especially as Republican candidates by and large seem to be becoming increasingly conservative.

Individualist said...

"you would find directors of Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Capital Partners, Landmark Partners, various hedge funds, Merrill Lynch, New Century Financial, and UBS among many others."

Hey Andrew let's play a game with the banking directors you mention. How much stock does the American government now own in their organizations due to Tarp and bailouts and how much do they need Obama's proxy to maintain their position as head of the board or CEO.

I'll begin with the one I think I know Citigroup, Obama (I mean the US government - sorry) owns 30%. Sounds like he's a king maker there.

Hmmmm.... Government is the watchdog of corporations and now owns them as well. There is an ethics principle from an SFAS or GAAS pronouncement somewhere.. what was it called oh that's right "Segregation of Duties".

Hey this is fun! Be more fun if we were Obama Cronies huh!

BevfromNYC said...

I always find it facinating that anyone ever believes any promise made during a campaign. Politicians say whatever they need to say to get elected. Frankly, I wouldn't want any elected official to follow through with most of their campaign promises.

In Obama's defense, I think he truly believed every promise he made. And he truly believed that he was going to walk in the first day and all his promises would become reality in the first 100 days. His poll numbers must really baffle him...

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, There you go again, looking at the real world. Why can't you conservatives just accept that Obama's good intentions make things like rules and ethics irrelevant? It doesn't matter that these same contributors owe their jobs to him, because. . . well, just because.

Seriously, you make a great point. The conflict of interest is borderline criminal.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I never believe anything they say either. I don't know if Obama was being honest or not, but his supporters sure thought he was.

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