Top aides to President Barack Obama have met early and often with lobbyists, Democratic political strategists and other interests with a stake in the administration's national health care overhaul, White House visitor records obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press show.
The AP in early August asked the White House to produce records identifying communications that top Obama aides — including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, senior advisers David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett and Pete Rouse, and 18 others — had with outside interests on health care. The AP in late September narrowed its request to White House visitor records for those officials on health care.
The White House on Wednesday provided AP with 575 visitor records covering the period from Jan. 20, when Obama was inaugurated, through August. The records give the name of each visitor to the White House complex to see people on AP's list, the date of the visit, who they were supposed to see, how many people attended the gathering, and in a sampling of cases, the purpose of the visit. The records do not identify the visitors' employers, say on whose behalf they were there or give any specifics on what was discussed.
The records show a broad cross-section of the people most heavily involved in the health care debate, weighted heavily with those who want to overhaul the system. Among them were Dr. Eliot Fisher, a Dartmouth health researcher who has estimated that nearly one-third of health care dollars are wasted on unneeded services, and Dr. David Himmelstein of Harvard Medical School, who is among the top advocates of a single-payer health care system.
The list also includes George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Health Plans; Scott Serota, president and CEO of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association; Kenneth Kies, a Washington lobbyist who represents Blue Cross/Blue Shield, among other clients; Billy Tauzin, head of PhRMA, the drug industry lobby; and Richard Umbdenstock, chief of the American Hospital Association.
Several lobbyists for powerful health care interests, including insurers, drug companies and large employers, also visited the White House complex, the records show:
- Laird Burnett, a top lobbyist for insurer Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc., and a former Senate aide. Kaiser has spent some $1.7 million lobbying Congress over the past two years.
- Joshua Ackil, a lobbyist whose clients include Intel, U.S. Oncology Inc., and Knoa Software Inc., all of which have reported lobbying on the health care overhaul. Ackil met with Dan Turton, the White House's deputy legislative affairs director who works with the House, in August. Seven people were at the Aug. 21 meeting, the records show.
- Alissa Fox, a lobbyist with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, met March 31 with Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget. Four people attended, the records show. The health insurance federation has spent at least $6.7 million lobbying this year.
- Mark Agrast, a lobbyist for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, met in June with Phil Schiliro, the White House legislative affairs director, with 22 people there, the records show.
- Amador "Dean" Aguillen, a former aide to Nancy Pelosi who is now with Ogilvy Government Relations, where he lobbies for clients including pharmaceutical companies SanofiPasteur and Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, Pfizer Inc., and Amgen USA Inc., all of which reported lobbying on health care issues this year. Aguillen appears to have attended the same Aug. 21 meeting with Turton that Ackil did.
- Merribel Ayres, a lobbyist who appears to focus on environmental issues such as energy and climate change. Ayres visited Schiliro on Aug. 18 at a meeting attended by five people, the records show.
The logs show a late-July meeting between Nancy-Ann DeParle, the director of Obama's Office of Health Reform, and lobbyists from the Business Roundtable, the association representing chief executives of major U.S. firms that has spent $9.3 million lobbying over the last two years and is keenly interested in the outcome of the health overhaul debate. Among the attendees at that session were the group's top lobbyist John J. Castellani, and Antonio Perez, the CEO of Eastman Kodak Company.
Demonstrating the political element of the health care debate, the records show that senior adviser Axelrod held what was described as a "communications message meeting" on March 13 with 18 people, including prominent Democratic strategists Brad Woodhouse, the party's communications director, and his predecessor Karen Finney; Steve McMahon, a campaign veteran and media strategist; Hilary Rosen, the former top lobbyist for the music industry; Jennifer Palmieri of the liberal Center for American Progress, John Edwards' former press secretary and a veteran of the Clinton White House; Maria Cardona, a specialist in Hispanic outreach at the Dewey Square Group; and Simon Rosenberg a founder of the centrist New Democrat Network.
Democratic pollsters Joel Benenson, Stanley Greenberg and Celinda Lake met with Jim Messina, the White House deputy chief of staff, on July 17. Twenty-seven people were there, the records show.