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Lobbyists thriving in Obama's Washington

March 30, 2009 |  9:40 am

Barack Obama said during the campaign that he wanted to change the culture in Washington, to close the revolving door on lobbyists seeking to influence his administration.

No doubt the president means to make good on his promises.

But ironically, in the months since Obama was sworn in as president, the number of lobbyists in Washington has grown. The reason: complex bills like the president's $787-billion stimulus package are like lobbyist catnip to Washington's K Street corridor of influence peddlers.

And with so much money on the line, the Washington Post found that more than 2,000 cities, companies and associations outside Washington have hired, you guessed it, lobbyists.

"We decided we needed eyes and ears in Washington," said Ed Tinker, city manager of Glenpool, Okla. So the town of 10,000 hired Capitol Hill Consulting Group, which employs former Rep. Rep. Bill Brewster (D-Okla.), for $10,000 a month to help it win grants for education and infrastructure improvements. "There are dollars up there that could come to our community that we weren't aware of," Tinker told the Post. "It's worked out real fine for us. Having that guy on the ground in Washington is going to keep us in the loop."

So the economy may be in the tank, Wall Street may be weeping dollars every day, but jobs are opening for lobbyists. And chief beneficiaries seem to be Democratic firms, like former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart's Glover Park Group, which posted a 27% increase in business last year. One big client: PhRMA, the pharmaceutical lobby, which expects a huge effort this year on the president's health care reform proposals. "We're busy as bees out here," said PhRMA CEO Billy Tauzin. "Making honey."

Democratic causes are also becoming a new growth industry in Washington. According to the Houston Chronicle, climate-change lobbying is enjoying a renaissance. With likelihood of a Democratic victory last fall, roughly 2,340 lobbyists dealing with climate issues -- from doubters to boosters -- were hired in 2008, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Senate lobbying disclosure forms.

As a result, said the Texas newspaper, climate lobbyists now outnumber members of Congress by more than 4 to 1.

-- Johanna Neuman

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