President Barack Obama may be uneasy with lobbyists, but lobbyists are easily finding business during the first months of his new presidency. The Sunlight Foundation reported that lobbying firms and special interest groups filed nearly 1,700 new registration forms in the first quarter of 2009. (That's likely about 400 more new registrations than during the same period last year, though reporting isn't yet complete.)
Lobbyists reported to the Senate Office of Public Records, and took on clients from Microsoft to MillerCoors less than two years after Obama told crowds on the campaign trail that lobbyists "think they own this government, but we're here today to take it back."
That big corporations are hiring big lobbyists is nothing new, but the glut of new lobbying registrations cuts across the angst Obama expressed over the lobbying culture during his presidential campaign. (Some of that angst appeared to subside earlier this month when the president signed a $410 billion spending bill with more than 8,500 earmarks costing some $7.7 billion.)
Some of the new lobbying registrations may stoke the angst of voters upset over recent bank bailouts. Among the businesses seeking cash through lobbyists are Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs, and Fifth Third Bank. The government has already handed the financial firms billions through the controversial Troubled Assets Relief Program.
At least one of the new lobbying registrations will trouble some voters for different reasons: Lobbying firm Husch Blackwell Sanders reported taking on California Stem Cell Inc. The Irvine, Calif.-based company's website says its mission is "the efficient development of human therapies based on human embryonic stem cells." Since the president recently lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, more scientific firms conducting the research condemned by pro-life forces may follow suit.
One question remains: Who gets what? It may be another month before the government reports how much clients paid lobbying firms and what work lobbyists performed for clients. It may be even longer before voters know how much money companies will get from the federal government through lobbyists' efforts. Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation said some earmarks will surface through the appropriations process, but murky reporting rules will leave other handouts obscured: "In some cases, we'll never know."