President-elect Obama, who campaigned against lobbyists' influence, on Tuesday opened the door for them to work for him if they sign an ethics code that restricts their role in and out of government.
Lobbyists can work for Obama's transition if they stop their advocacy efforts and avoid working in any field that they lobbied on in the last year. They also must pledge not to lobby the Obama administration on the same matters they focused on during the transition for a year after leaving Obama's service.
As bad as things are in Washington, all this symbolism and watering down of the campaign commitment actually represents a noticeable improvement.
The ethics policy allows Obama to hire any of the some 22,000 federally registered lobbyists who could be valuable assets because of their government experience, even though Obama railed against their influence on the campaign trail.
Of course, it's yet another abandonment of a strong policy stance. He was just kidding about his lobbying stand.
Podesta called the lobbying ban "the strictest, the most far-reaching ethic rules of any transition team in history." Yet the transition rules are not as strict as those that Obama has proposed for his administration's staff.
In a speech last November in Spartanburg, S.C., Obama said: "I have done more to take on lobbyists than any other candidate in this race ... I don't take a dime of their money, and when I am president, they won't find a job in my White House."
They won't find a job in my White House. Now there's a White Lie.
At other times, he said lobbyists would not "run" his White House.
Under recommendations spelled out in Obama's campaign Web site, no Obama political appointees would be allowed to work on regulations or contracts "directly or substantially related to their prior employer for two years." And while people who work on the transition would be permitted to lobby the administration on their transition issues after one year, political appointees to administration jobs would be prohibited from lobbying the executive branch for the remainder of the administration, according to Obama's proposed rules.
Podesta said the specifics of the administration rules are still being worked out, but it would include the two-year ban that Obama pledged. He said it was shortened to one year for the transition because it's a short-term assignment before the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Government watchdogs applauded the ethics rules in an unusual statement issued through the campaign. Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution called the rules "tough and unequivocal" and said they come with a cost of keeping some honorable people from serving the transition, while Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute called them "far-reaching, bold and constructive" to restore trust in government.