Belmont Club

The tyranny of the fine print

The Politico looks at Joe Biden’s new chief of staff and observes that the prohibition against employing lobbyists and persons with industry interests in the new administration actually applies only if the lobbyists are directly employed on issues with which they were formerly concerned. If they’re in the next room, it’s ok. Fannie Mae’s friends live on but in other settings.

After leaving the Clinton administration in its waning months, newly tapped Vice Presidential chief of staff Ron Klain lobbied for an asbestos industry bailout package, an airline merger, mortgage regulations to help Fannie Mae and a drug-maker under congressional scrutiny for withholding life-saving drugs from dying patients, among other clients.

Klain’s career as a lobbyist, during which clients paid nearly $700,000 for lobbying in which he participated, ended when he left his partnership at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers in 2005.

That makes him eligible to be the top aide to Vice President-elect Joe Biden under the rules outlined by President-elect Barack Obama, who decreed early in his campaign that lobbyists can work in his administration — just not in areas related to their lobbying within two years of that lobbying.

“This is the strongest ethics and lobbying reform policy in history,” asserted Obama transition spokesman Tommy Vietor. …

From 2002 through 2005, the now-failed mortgage lender Fannie Mae paid as much as $120,000 for an O’Melveny team, including Klain, to lobby Congress and the Housing and Urban Development Department on “regulatory issues.”

A telescope maker in 2002 paid O’Melveny $40,000 for Klain and his crew to push for legislation “that would provide a duty suspension on imports of certain toy telescopes.”

And from 2001 to 2005, AOL Time Warner paid O’Melveny as much as $130,000 for a Klain-led team to lobby Congress and the Justice Department on issues related to “competition in Internet and related computer sciences.”

It’s a job. Besides, lobbyists are people too.

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