Adviser: Obama's 'No Lobbyist' Promise Hardest to Keep

WASHINGTON -- A senior White House adviser, briefing reporters on the first 100 days of the Obama presidency, said the toughest promise to keep has been on reducing the role of lobbyists and conceded the president had not lived up to his promise to post legislation for five days on the Internet before signing it.

"It's been tough," the adviser said, describing raging internal debates on the anti-lobbyist policy that he said the White House has struggled to conform with campaign rhetoric.

It was a tough issue for Obama as a candidate, too. Before the crucial Iowa caucuses, Obama frequently vowed that "they (lobbyists) won't work in my White House."

But when he was pressed by reporters a couple of weeks before the caucuses, Obama dialed his exclusion back, saying: "They are not going to run my White House. And they won't drown out the voices of the American people."

The slight adjustment did not hurt Obama. He won the Iowa caucuses handily. But that pledge has caused some heartburn in the transition from campaigning to governing.

Obama's executive order on ethics sets these limits on former lobbyists: they can't leave the administration and lobby on matters they dealt with in the administration for two years; and lobbyists can't join agencies they lobbied in the two previous years.

The adviser said many lobbyists who work for causes that Democrats support -- on issues like labor, the environment, abortion and gay rights or military or budget reform -- perform a valuable public service and probably would be assets in a Democratic White House.

"It's hard for some people to understand," the adviser said, acknowledging some tough debates inside the White House. "Why would we exclude them? But I think we have shown you can govern without lobbyists."

The White House has issued three waivers lifting its ban on former registered lobbyists working in the administration. The first was to Bill Lynn, a former lobbyist for Raytheon, so he could become deputy Defense secretary; Jocelyn Frye, former general counsel of the National Partnership for Women and Families; and Cecilia Munoz, the former vice president of the National Council for La Raza. Frye is now the director of policy and projects for first lady Michelle Obama, and Munoz is the director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Government ethics groups have said the waivers undermine the campaign promise to have zero tolerance for lobbyists in high government positions.

The adviser said the brakes were applied after the third waiver was issued, saying the White House feared it was on "kind of a slippery slope. You learn from your experiences."

The question that had been raised at that point, the adviser said was, "Are we unwittingly going down a road we shouldn't be?"

As for posting legislation on the White House web site for five days before the president signed it, the adviser said the White House will try to improve, but conceded it's broken that promise.

On the campaign trail, Obama made this pledge: "When there is a bill that ends up on my desk as a president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what's in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government's doing."

The stimulus bill, a pay equity bill, a bill expanding children's health insurance, the omnibus spending bill funding the remainder of the 2009 budget and a public lands bill were all signed before the final version was posted for public review for five days.