Ruth Marcus / Politics

Demons Who Really Aren't

WASHINGTON -- Steve Ricchetti is a once and, no doubt, future lobbyist. So it was inevitable that Vice President Biden's decision to hire Ricchetti as a senior adviser would prompt howls about Obama administration hypocrisy.

Here, after all, was an administration that had pledged to keep lobbyists out of its White House bringing in one of the city's top you-know-whats.

Make that former you-know-whats: Ricchetti, cleansing himself of the supposed sin of lobbying, had dropped his lobbyist registration shortly before the start of the Obama administration -- though he remained head of the, yes, lobbying firm he founded with his lobbyist brother.

As my colleague Dana Milbank tartly noted, "Only in today's Washington could a president circumvent his own ban on hiring lobbyists by hiring the head of a lobbying firm."

Nice line.

But maybe the real problem of the Obama White House is not that it has too many lobbyists. Maybe the real problem is that it has had too few. Maybe if the Obama administration had more Ricchettis from the start it would have had fewer problems.

After all, lobbyists are people who know how to get things done in Washington -- hard things, because the easy ones don't require an arsenal of lobbyists on fat retainers.

President Obama's self-imposed ban on lobbyists delivered on a campaign pledge adopted in the aftermath of the seamy Jack Abramoff scandal. As I wrote at the time, "The ugly excesses and outright criminality ... argue for this cleansing of a corrupt system. The new rules serve, as Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote of Hester Prynne wearing her letter, as 'a living sermon against sin.'"

But as with Hawthorne's scarlet letter, the community is complicit in the sins it purports to scorn. Lobbyists are the symptom of a broken system, not its cause.

Despite the popular image of the lobbyist as a martini-swilling glad-hander dispensing bags of campaign cash, most lobbyists I know would be delighted to get off the relentless fundraising treadmill.

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Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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