The Ethics of Audacity

Reince  Priebus
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Posted: Jan 18, 2012 10:22 AM

He promised there wouldn’t be lobbyists. Not a one.

But less than a week into Barack Obama’s presidency (a week!), the White House had hired at least a dozen of them. They granted exceptions for some, and for others they exploited loopholes in the administration’s own self-written, self-imposed rules.

Anyone taken by surprise by the more recent White House scandals—Solyndra, Operation Fast and Furious, the downfall of Obama’s “Wall Street Guy” Jon Corzine—really shouldn’t have been surprised at all. That early ethical backpedalling was excellent, if not unfortunate, foreshadowing of what was to come.

Over the last three years, Barack Obama has proven to be nothing but a typical politician—willing to promise anything, and equally willing to break any promise. As a result, Team Obama has shattered the image of ethical superiority they so carefully molded. Yet, in hopes of scoring a few more political points, they still cling to that image, bitter that no one takes them at their word anymore.

Candidate Obama was either exceptionally naïve or willfully disingenuous when he vowed to change the way Washington works. The very promise of Hope and Change was rooted in uprooting the Washington modus operandi. But instead of rejecting it, he embraced it all—the secrecy, the closed doors, the political favors, the near-criminal negligence.

Is it terribly surprising for an administration filled with veteran Chicago politicos? There’s a reason “Chicago-style politics” rings like an epithet—even in Washington. And in true Chicago form, the White House denies wrongdoing even when presented with undeniable evidence.

“The most transparent administration in history,” is White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s go-to line. Yes, the American people can see right through many of Team Obama’s political ploys, but that’s not likely what he means.

The Solyndra scandal proved the fallacy of the “most transparent” mantra—if it wasn’t already obvious. When Congress subpoenaed documents relating to the White House’s involvement in the now-bankrupt stimulus-backed solar energy company, the administration called the demands “unprecedented and unnecessary.”

President Obama promised a “new standard of openness,” but apparently it wasn’t a very high one.

Eventually, though, reporters pieced together the truth: the Obama administration loaned $535 million of taxpayer money to a company backed by one of its top campaign fundraising bundlers, despite warnings that the company was a bad investment. On top of that, they ensured that, in the event the company went bankrupt, taxpayers would be the last to be repaid. Long story short, we’re not getting our $535 million back.

Solyndra is just the tip of the unethical iceberg. The White House has been happily dolling out favors for fundraisers for the past three years. Clean energy investor Steve Westly bundled over $500,000 for the campaign; he had a direct line to advisor Valerie Jarrett. Tech investor Steve Spinner also bundled 500 grand. He landed a job overseeing the very loan program from which Solyndra benefitted.

Other bundlers received millions in stimulus funds, lucrative staff positions, and visits to the White House. The business leaders now advising Obama on the president’s “Jobs Council” were among his top campaign financiers.

And then there’s Jon Corzine, the man whose company, MF Global, lost $1.2 billion in hard-working Americans’ money. He too bundled $500,000 for the president’s campaign and bought himself a generous helping of Washington influence. Joe Biden boasted on multiple occasions that Corzine was the first person he called for advice on the economy and crafting the $825 billion failed stimulus.

Even more troubling, especially for the victims of Corzine’s recklessness, his political connections in the White House may have helped delay the very rules from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that would likely have prevented the loss of that $1.2 billion. The New York Times’ Ben Protess reported last month that the agency proposed a crackdown on certain investment practices, but “met a powerful roadblock in Mr. Corzine.”

Even as the pay-for-play politics comes to light, the Obama campaign continues to accept money from lobbyists. However, to uphold their pledge not to do so, they are sure to take money only from unregistered lobbyists. But a lobbyist by any other name would be, well, still a lobbyist. In others words, they get to be ethical only on a technicality.

What do these fundraising lobbyists get in return? Plenty. As Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times reported in October, they “glide easily through the corridors of power in Washington, with a number of them hosting Mr. Obama at fundraisers while also visiting the White House on policy matters and official business.”

They are getting special treatment from the administration of the very same man that in 2008 declared that lobbyists “have not funded my campaign, they will not run my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am president."

But something is most certainly drowning out those voices; roughly three-quarters of the country says we’re on the wrong track. Someone has the president’s ear, and it certainly isn’t the American people. From Obamacare to Obamanomics, he has spent the last three years going against the will of the people more often than not. And the results have been undeniably devastating—higher unemployment, higher underemployment, higher poverty, higher healthcare costs.

Now, standing astride the wreckage of his first administration, he audaciously promises a second term will be different. He promises that if we give him a second term, he’ll finally be able to get the job done.

But he also promised there wouldn’t be lobbyists.