WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama has imposed stricter conflict-of-interest restrictions on his White House transition team than any president before him. But a list of transition team members that his office made public on Friday includes a complicated tangle of ties to private influence-seekers.
Among the full roster of about 150 staff members being assigned to government agencies between now and Inauguration Day are dozens of former lobbyists and some who were registered as recently as this year. Many more are executives and partners at firms that pay lobbyists, and former government officials who work as consultants or advisers to those seeking influence.
After campaigning on promises to end the influence of lobbyists in the White House, Mr. Obama has imposed rules that bar officials on his transition team from handling any issues in areas of policy where they have lobbied over the last 12 months or from seeking to influence the same agencies for the next 12 months.
The rules also bar officials from working on matters where family members or recent business associates may have a direct conflict of interest. In cases where there is even an “appearance of conflict,” officials must seek a waiver from the transition’s executive director, an Obama Senate aide and law school classmate, Christopher Lu.
At least one official initially involved in the transition appears to have been reassigned because of concern about his lobbying or legal work. Henry Rivera, a former Democratic commissioner on the Federal Communication Commission who was involved in planning for the agency’s transition, has dropped out of that role because he had represented clients on communications policy in the last year, the newsletter Communications Daily reported Friday.
Instead, on the list that was made public on Friday, Mr. Rivera was listed on the team handling science, technology, space and the arts. The rules permit people who have lobbied in one area to join an Obama transition team in another. (With Mr. Rivera is Jim Kohlenberger, executive director of an advocacy group for Internet companies.)
Representatives of the transition team declined to comment on the assignment, and Mr. Rivera did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Transition officials said that their policy went further than any previous White House to avoid self-dealing or influence-trading in the formation of the new administration, and that in the modern Washington it would be foolish to try to eliminate anyone who had worked in public policy for a private interest — or who had a family member in that business — from contributing to the transition.
Stephanie Cutter, a transition spokeswoman, said in a written statement that the transition team reflected what she called Mr. Obama’s “commitment to change the way Washington does business and curb the influence of lobbyists on our government.”
“While these rules disqualify many well-qualified professionals from participating in the transition as a result, they also put in place the right safeguards to prevent any potential conflicts of interest,” Ms. Cutter said.
Some appear to skirt the edges of the ban on working in areas of the transition where they have recently lobbied. Handling some Interior Department issues is Keith Harper, who lobbied earlier this year for Native American tribes. Overseeing the Consumer Products Safety Commission is Pamela Gilbert, a former executive director of the agency who as recently as two years ago lobbied for a consumer advocacy group. Within the last year she has lobbied for the company Barr Laboratories, for an investor group, and for an antitrust enforcement group.
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Among the group handling the Justice Department and civil rights areas of the transition is Theodore Shaw, a litigator for an arm of the N.A.A.C.P. He has registered as a lobbyist for the group in the past, but N.A.A.C.P. officials say he has not lobbied in the past 12 months.
David J. Hayes, part of the 12-member group overseeing the transition and co-head of the team handling the areas of energy and natural resources, is the chairman of the environmental practice at the law and lobbying firm Latham & Watkins. He was personally registered as a lobbyist as recently as 2006, for clients including San Diego Gas and Electric.
Sally Katzen, another member of the supervisory group who is also on teams for the office of the president and government operations, was registered last year to lobby for the pharmaceutical company Amgen on Medicare reimbursements. Louisa Terrell, another member of the top working group, is on leave from the public policy office of the Internet company Yahoo! Tom Wheeler, another of the 12, is on leave from a firm that invests in technology companies and before 2004 lobbied for the cable television and wireless industries.
John L. White, a former Clinton official charged with overseeing the new Defense Department, is a partner in a firm that invests in defense contractors. Michael Warren, charged with overseeing Treasury, is chief operating officer of a firm that lobbies for clients including the U.S.-India Business Council.
Several of the officials have ties to the Fannie Mae, the government-backed mortgage firm whose implosion this fall contributed to the financial meltdown. Thomas Donilon, overseeing the State Department, is a partner in the law and lobbying firm O’Melveny and Myers who until three years ago lobbied for Fannie Mae. Wendy R. Sherman, the other official charged with reviewing the State Department, once headed Fannie Mae’s charitable foundation. And James Johnson, a former top officer of Fannie Mae, is on the economics and international trade team, charged with reviewing the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.
Even Mr. Lu, the transition’s executive director charged with policing potential conflicts of interests, may have his own appearance problems. His wife, Kathryn Thomson, is a lawyer who represents corporate clients dealing with federal environmental regulations, while his older brother, Curtis Lu, is a top lawyer for Fannie Mae. (Such family connections may not be disqualifying conflicts depending on the nature of the transition job, ethics lawyers said.)
Mr. Lu has his work cut out for him in deciding which apparent conflicts may be of real concern, said Robert Walker, a Washington lawyer and former staff director of the Senate Ethics Committee. “I don’t think it is the brightest of bright lines, and there is going to be a lot of time spent thinking about just where that line is,” Mr. Walker said.
The people involved in the transition teams assigned to each federal department and agency have begun meeting with their current staff to collect information on budgets, pending issues and personnel matters. For now, the advisers assigned to each agency report back to the central 12-person working group, which coordinates the efforts.
The vast majority involved are second-tier officials of the Clinton administration, eager to help another Democrat take control of the White House. With the exception of a few academics, almost all of them spent the intervening years in the private sector, usually capitalizing on the connections and expertise they developed in the Clinton years.
For example, Sandy Berger, the Clinton national security adviser, founded Stonebridge International, a consulting and lobbying firm focused on helping clients resolve government issues here and overseas.
Mr. Berger took with him Mr. Warren, the former executive director of the president’s economic council who became chief operating officer of Stonebridge and has now become a major contributor to the transition in the pivotal areas of the Treasury Department and economic policy. Although not a registered lobbyist, Mr. Warren helped manage Stonebridge while it lobbied the government for clients including the U.S.-India Business Council within the last year as well as Dynergy International, Airbus and Conoco in earlier years. (More of Stonebridge’s business involves using government expertise and connections to help corporate clients abroad.)
Some transition officials now work at firms that do business with the agencies they are examining. John O. Brennan, a former Central Intelligence Agency official working on its transition, is president and chief executive of the Analysis Corporation, an intelligence contractor.
On the NASA review board, Lori Garver is now president of a strategic consulting company, Capital Space LLC, and previously worked for the aerospace company DFI International.
Among the transition officials charged with reviewing the Securities and Exchange Commission — likely to come under significant scrutiny amid the financial meltdown — is Mozelle Thompson, who runs a legal and policy consulting business for publicly traded companies including Facebook.com. One name on the transition list comes unencumbered by potential conflicts but instead by bad luck. Jami Miscik, leading a review of American intelligence agencies, was the head of intelligence analysis at the Central Intelligence Agency during its biggest embarrassment: the botched assessments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Then she moved on to become a senior official managing risks in emerging markets for the investment bank Lehman Brothers, until its collapse this fall.
Kitty Bennett, Mark T. Mazzetti and Barclay Walsh contributed reporting for this article.
This story, "In Transition, Tangle of Ties to Lobbying," originally appeared in the New York Times.
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