President Joe Biden has banned his senior advisers from accepting lucrative bonuses from their former employers for joining his administration in a bid to curb corporate efforts to influence the White House agenda.
Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday that also prohibits senior officials appointed by the administration from pressuring senior White House officials for a period of time, usually two years, after leaving the government, in addition to the current ban. to try to influence former colleagues at the agency.
The restrictions will also apply to so-called “parallel lobbying,” in which former officials advise their new colleagues on K Street how to influence the government. Biden’s ban affects those believed to be planning an outreach at their old agencies and the White House.
Biden’s order establishes lobbying restrictions that are stronger than the rules put in place by President Barack Obama or President Donald Trump, signaling a tightening of the revolving door between government and corporate interests in Washington.
While Biden’s executive order may limit how companies can shape laws and regulations in their favor, it is unlikely to completely shut down Washington’s powerful corporate influence machine, reform experts have said. of the government.
“This goes a long way,” said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy for Project On Government Oversight, a watchdog group. “Financial interests will always find a way to exercise their power.”
Wednesday’s order on lobbying is one of 17 executive actions Biden signed off in his first half-day in office. His team said they also plan to resume public publication of White House visitor logs, a practice Trump stopped when he took office.
Lawyers who spend 20% or more of their time representing clients’ interests to decision-makers are required to file a quarterly report revealing their contacts under lobbying laws.
Biden’s new ethics policy has garnered praise from good government groups who have argued that the order improves the rules set by the Obama administration by banning parallel lobbying and other ways in which companies covertly influence policy.
“This is exactly what we want to see,” Hempowicz said. “It is unfortunate that standards can change so significantly from one administration to another.”
In the final hours of his presidency, Trump revoked his administration’s ethical commitment to bar political appointees from lobbying agencies where they worked for five years after leaving government. His original order also prohibited former political members from lobbying for a foreign government or political party.
The Obama administration banned appointees from contacting employees at their old agencies for two years after leaving government. While Trump imposed a longer ban, his focus on “lobbying activities” left the door open for companies to influence the White House in other ways, critics said.
Biden’s implementation of the new rules will test whether his administration will avoid the public perception that companies are wielding undue influence over the White House while retaining top-notch talent, some lobbying experts have said.
Enforcing such bans can be tricky and would force the US government to discover that former employees are engaged in clandestine lobbying activities and then take action against them for breaking the rules – an unlikely scenario.
Paul Miller, lobbyist and former president of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics, argued that the new restrictions could pull qualified officials away from the new administration, without offering much transparency about how the government is influenced. by special interests.
Biden’s order bans the so-called “golden parachutes” that companies have given to employees entering the public service. In the past, these officials were simply not allowed to participate in any decision affecting their former employers.
But they’ve also often received waivers of those rules, according to Richard Painter, President George W. Bush’s chief White House ethics counselor, who said he consulted Biden’s transition team on the new executive order. . Then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, for example, negotiated with former colleagues at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. during the financial crisis.
Obama issued 17 waivers to specific White House officials during his eight years. Trump has granted at least 27 waivers – including blanket waivers that apply to all White House officials, according to revelations posted on the White House website archives for each.
“Trump’s executive order didn’t look that different from Obama’s and not that different from what you’ll see here,” Painter said. “What makes the difference is whether the president is ready to implement it.