The Exceptions To Obama’s Ethics Rules

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Moments after Barack Obama announced new ethics rules Wednesday, the Republican National Committee gleefully emailed reporters with some opposition research. Obama had announced that recently registered lobbyists could not work in either the agency they lobbied or on the subject matters they were hired to lobby. But as the RNC promptly pointed out, at least two Obama nominees violated his own rule.

William J. Lynn III, Obama’s proposed number two at the Defense Department, had recently lobbied the pentagon for Raytheon, a major weapons manufacturer. William Corr, who was nominated as number two at the Department of Health and Human Services, had recently lobbied the agency for the Campaign for Tobacco Free-Kids.

Asked about the contradiction, Obama Spokesman Robert Gibbs admitted the obvious, saying the new rules were made to be occasionally broken. “Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions,” Gibbs told the Associated Press. “Our waiver provisions are designed to allow uniquely qualified individuals like Bill Corr and Bill Lynn to serve the public interest in these critical times.” (See waiver provision here, Sec. 3(b))

Of course, Obama never mentioned this in his announcement. And while it remains true that Obama’s rules are much tougher than those of President Bush, it is unclear how many other exceptions may yet arise. Meanwhile, the exceptions have begun to cause ripples in at least one of the nominees’ confirmations. Here is what Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, a member of the Armed Services Committee, told CQ: “I have no reason to impugn Mr. Lynn’s integrity, but it’s a problem,” she said, though her staff later said she did not plan to hold up the nomination.