In the following article, American University political scientist James A. Thurber, a leading authority on presidential and congressional politics, describes the effort of President Barack Obama to change one part of the culture of Washington, the influence of lobbyists. Candidate Obama made that reform a central part of his presidential campaign in 2008. This article explores his effectiveness in making good that promise.
Widespread scandal and public opinion helped to fuel then Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s nonstop attack on the role of lobbyists in American politics and made him a leading ethics and lobbying reform advocate in the U.S. Senate in 2006 and 2007. Obama continued that theme in his 2008 election campaign and in the first four years of his term as president, he attempted to change the culture of lobbying and influence in Congress and Washington. Candidate Barack Obama in 2008 captured the anger with Congress, lobbying and the way Washington works when he made this promise to the public:
“I intend to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over, that they had not funded my campaigns, and from my first day as president, I will launch the most sweeping ethics reform in U.S. history. We will make government more open, more accountable, and more responsive to the problems of the American people.”
Are lobbyists distorting what is in the public interest, undermining pubic trust in Congress, and ultimately the integrity of American democracy, as argued by Senator/candidate/President Obama? Has President Obama changed the murky world of the revolving door of lobbyists/advocates in campaigns and government? Has President Obama he changed the way Congress and Washington works?
These are not new questions for Washington; they echo James Madison’s lament in Federalist Paper Number 10 written in 1787.
“Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and