Obama Announces Transition Ethics Rules–And Keeps on Fundraising


The Obama gang can be pretty good when it comes to managing the message. Today, John Podesta, the chief of the Obama transition, announced the ethics rules for the transition. Here they are:

* Federal Lobbyists cannot contribute financially to the transition.

* Federal lobbyists are prohibited from any lobbying during their work with the transition.

* If someone has lobbied in the last 12 months, they are prohibited from working in the fields of policy on which they lobbied.

* If someone becomes a lobbyist after working on the transition, they are prohibited from lobbying the Administration for 12 months on matters on which they worked.

* A gift ban that is aggressive in reducing the influence of special interests.

As he talked to reporters about these rules, the transition team sent out an email to reporters listing these prohibitions. Included in the email were positive reviews of the rules from two veteran Washington experts on government: Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. They are two go-to sources for Washington reporters on government and reform issues. And here–for reporters’ convenience–were we-love-this quotes from the pair.

Mann noted:

The ethical guidelines released today for the Obama transition are tough and unequivocal. They will prevent some honorable people with rich experience from serving in the transition. That is a real cost but it is more than balanced by the strong signal sent by the President-elect. He aspires to attract to government able individuals whose highest priority is to serve the public interest. This is a very constructive step in that direction.

Ornstein said:

Restoring trust in government is a prerequisite to enacting good policy and the tough choices the country needs. This ethics policy for the transition is a far-reaching, bold and constructive step to do just that. The policy may exclude some good people with deep experience in their fields, but it will also exclude those who see government service as a springboard to financial success, or who are more intent on pleasing future potential employers or clients than making tough choices in the public interest. As much as anything, this ethics policy is a statement about the tone and tenor of the Obama administration. It is a good sign.

There–I did just what the Obama camp wants reporters to do: make use of these served-up-on-a-silver-platter quotes.

But there is a question: why does the transition accept any contributions at all? Podesta noted that the Obama transition will cost $12 million, but that the government will only pick up $5 million of this tab. Consequently, President-elect Barack Obama and his supporters will raise another $7 million. According to the new rules, contributions from federal lobbyists, corporations, and political action committees will not be accepted. Individuals cannot give more than $5000. And all donations will be disclosed.

Yet when the top priority for Obama and his aides is preparing to govern, why should any time be spent on raising money for the transition? Given that the nation is spending trillions of dollars to rescue the financial industry, it shouldn’t be too hard to fund fully the transition effort. Can’t Congress just appropriate another $7 million–which is chump change these days–and let Obama get on with the show?

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