Obama issues tough new lobbying restrictions and opens records

Many of the left and the right have long complained that the game was rigged in Washington. That will probably never end, but President Obama seems determined to change the climate in Washington by lessening the role of lobbyists and making the government more transparent.

New lobbying and records rules issued by President Obama yesterday appear to go beyond changes implemented by previous presidents, and could usher in an era of openness in federal government, according to ethics experts and open-government advocates.

In two executive orders and three presidential directives, Obama laid out stringent lobbying limits that will bar any appointees from seeking lobbying jobs while he is president and will ban gifts from lobbyists to anyone in the administration. He also ordered agencies to presume that records should be publicly released unless there are compelling reasons not to do so, and he loosened restrictions on the release of records related to former presidents and vice presidents.

Open-government advocates described the moves as a sharp departure from the policies of former president George W. Bush and former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who sought to shield details about White House inner workings from public view and imposed public records restrictions.

These changes are very significant. We’ve just endured one of the most secretive administrations in history, rivaling the paranoia of the Nixon years. Obama wants to opposite. Energy policy will not be set in secret meetings with industry executives.

The changes regarding the records of former presidents are most interesting.

In a separate order, Obama mandated more openness for presidential records following a congressionally established five-year waiting period after any president leaves office. The order permits a review by the attorney general and the White House counsel of claims by former presidents that information should be withheld under the doctrine of “executive privilege.” It also leaves the final decision in the hands of the incumbent president — not the former president, as provided in a 2001 order from Bush.

This accelerates how quickly we will learn what really happened during the Bush years.

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