The special counsel to President Barack Obama for ethics and government reform spurred a lively debate about communication between government officials and lobbyists in the Jack Morton Auditorium last week.
Obama’s special counsel, Norman Eisen, spoke about an executive order by the Obama administration that prevents lobbyists from having oral communication with government officials regarding the economic stimulus package. About 100 students, faculty and media members attended the event, which featured a panel of lobbyists and former members of Congress. The event was sponsored by the Graduate School of Political Management.
Obama’s executive order works to “reassure the American people that the individuals working in government will work for the public interest and not just the special interest,” Eisen said.
Some members of the panel, however, argued that the Obama administration’s executive order is overly strict.
“The executive memo goes too far,” said Joel Jankowsky, a lobbyist with the Akin Gump lobbying firm. “It borders on unconstitutional. [The executive memo] is not hurting the lobbyists, it’s hurting the people the lobbyists represent.”
Dave Wenhold, the first vice president of the American League of Lobbyists, said the executive order singles out lobbyists as the only people who try and fight for money from the government.
“Transparency is a good thing, sunlight is a good thing, but it has to be equal for everybody,” Wenhold said. “CEOs in the banking and auto industry can have an oral conversation [with members of government] and that’s not right.”
Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause, a nonprofit lobbying group, said Obama’s executive order is a step in the right direction to change the way the political system has worked in the past.
“The system is broken and needs to be fixed,” Edgar said, adding that this executive order, “is trying to change the culture of Washington. The administration has jolted the system . it’s a refreshing attempt to move in a direction of change and hope.”
During his speech, Eisen called Obama a rare “reformer,” trying to change the way the American political system has worked in the past.
“It’s a unique moment to have a reformer occupy the Oval Office,” Eisen said. “It happens from time to time but it’s not a frequent historical occurrence.”
Eisen said the event allowed him to hear from both supporters and opponents of the executive order – which he said helped him gain a broader perspective of the issue at hand.
“The White House was very pleased to be invited to participate in today’s forum,” Eisen said. “The paramount virtues of the President’s commitment to change include transparency and openness and it includes a commitment to speak to everyone, not only those with whom you agree.”