Campaign Donors Working On Policy At The White House

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The White House has made significant strides over the last year in the areas of ethics and transparency. The revolving door has been slowed, lobbyists can no longer give money to the Democratic National Committee and, for the first time, anyone can keep tabs on whom is coming and going from the White House. But some of the old habits, which have long concerned good government crusaders remain. One of those is the practice of inviting major campaign donors to play a significant role in the policy formation process at the White House. In the latest newsstand issue of TIME–get six issues on high-tech, bendable paper for $1.99–I have a story about how this process works.

The story focuses on the work of one donor, John Doerr, a hugely successful venture capitalist who has invested heavily in both green energy companies and lobbying state and federal officials to change energy policies. He was appointed to the President’s Economic Advisory Recovery Board, where he has been working on issues like smart grid regulations, carbon pricing, and most recently, a new weatherization proposal, called Home Star, which President Obama boosted this week on a trip to Georgia. Doerr has invested in a major smart grid provider, several companies that will benefit from increased carbon costs, and companies at work on high-tech solutions for home energy maintenance, though the latter companies will not directly benefit from Home Star.

The issue here has less to do with the merits of the specific policies than the apparent role that campaign contributions play in our political system. “When you have campaign donors on these advisory boards,” says Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, “it has the appearance of being an inside special-interest opportunity.” A prominent Democratic lobbyist I spoke with was even more blunt about the appointmet of campaign fundraisers to PERAB. “It’s the Lincoln Bedroom with a little more cover,” this person said.

Read my entire story here, or buy a copy at the newsstand. The layout is better in print.