Candidate Barack Obama — who railed against lobbyists and vowed he would not hire a lobbyist for any presidential appointment and would not allow lobbyists to influence his White House — has changed his tune as president.
President Obama has changed the rules of the game and it turns out to be far worse that what he alleged he was trying to prevent.
In the Obama administration, unions have free reign to influence the White House, but if you are a lobbyist or trade association you are locked out of access unless you use the services of the Obama-created "gate keeper" and that access comes with a high price.
Obama promised to change Washington by denying lobbyists' access to the White House. He has pretty much kept his word as the business community has been almost totally blocked from getting to know many of the top White House decision makers. There is a big exception to the big corporations willing to pay a stiff entry fee to hobknob with top White House officials.
Business Forward is officially a non-profit trade association formed after President Obama was elected. It was formed by former Obama staffers and supporters.
Its' 2009 tax filing lists four directors: The CEO James Doyle, a liberal Democrat Obama supporter and the husband of Patti Solis Doyle, who was an official in the Obama presidential campaign. The corporate secretary and director David Sutphen, another big Democrat, whose sister Mona Sutphen is Deputy White House Chief of Staff; Erik Smith, an Obama supporter; and Rob Shepardson, who ran candidate Obama's youth marketing agency.
Instead of simply forming a lobbying group, these relatives and Obama campaign officials formed a trade association. This is rather unusual.
Most trade associations represent a specific industry or even cause and it is unknown if ever before has one been formed around a similar connection to a sitting U.S. president.
What are unusual are its activities. It appears to exist in large part to provide its member's access to the White House.
Hill reporter Kevin Bogardus, in an article exposing Business Forward, quoted a Democratic consultant who said: "If I am a company and if I see these folks are delivering Valerie Jarrett, I am signing up because there are few people in town who can deliver her right now."
In 2009, in order to drive lobbyists and trade associations to Business Forward, President Obama announced new rules. The Bogardus article lays out their "business plan."
Its common theme is its members are mostly big companies who, through Business Forward, get to wine and dine with White House officials.
The annual fees are believed to be steep — $75,000 a year — especially for service by an association staff of just four people.
Obama announced new rules to limit the interaction between administration officials and lobbyists regarding projects in the stimulus package.
Lobbyists will have to submit materials to be published online, and their meetings with officials will also be disclosed publicly.
Lobbyists say they are finding it difficult to set up meetings or get their calls returned by officials in the White House — even longtime friends from former campaigns or congressional offices.
"You have lobbyists shut out of the game," said one Democratic lobbyist.
"In the end, they don¹t want to be a liability," the lobbyist added, talking about White House aides.
Some business trade association representatives see Business Forward as an invention of the White House to create a fissure within the business community.
"The president is trying to convince businesses to join this new association to replace the Chamber [of Commerce], NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business], NAM [National Association of Manufacturers], and the Wholesalers all in one," said Jade West, senior vice president of government relations for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW), one of the few business groups to oppose Obama's stimulus package.
It is clear that "Business Forward" is far worse than business as usual.
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