White House Grants Jarrett Ethics Waiver to Lead Efforts to Bring 2016 Olympics to Chicago

May 3, 2009 11:01am

On Friday night, the White House posted on its website a special ethics waiver allowing senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to lead the White House’s efforts to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago.

Jarrett had previously served as Vice Chair of the non-profit entity "Chicago 2016."

The waiver — which can be read HERE — was signed by Special Counsel to the President and Designated Agency Ethics Official Norm Eisen.

It states that: "After consultation with the Counsel to the President, I hereby waive the requirements of paragraph 2 of the Ethics Pledge of Ms. Valerie Jarrett with respect to her former relationship with Chicago 2016. I have determined that it is in the public interest to grant the waiver because Ms. Jarrett’s knowledge and expertise on the United States’ sole Olympic bid for 2016 make her an ideal person to lead Administration efforts in support of this bid. I understand that Ms. Jarrett will otherwise comply with the remainder of the pledge and with all preexisting government ethics rules."

Eisen writes on the blog that although Chicago 2016 was not Jarrett’s "former employer" in traditional terms, President Obama’s original lobbyist rules also includes institutions on which appointees served as directors or officers.

In fact it was precisely Jarrett’s experience on Chicago 2016 that made her perfect to lead the White House efforts, the White House decided, since she "developed knowledge about the process that will make her a powerful advocate and liaison. Although Valerie previously volunteered with Chicago 2016, she has no continuing financial relationship with them. Since the Administration already plans on vigorously supporting the United States’ sole 2016 Olympic bid, we felt that letting Valerie lead our efforts was strongly in the public interest."

The conundrum for the White House is that in instituting its semi-ban on lobbyists, often those with expertise on a subject have worked as lobbyists for, or directors of organizations devoted to that subject. (To be clear: Jarrett was not a lobbyist for Chicago 2016.)

Two days after introducing what he heralded as the most sweeping ethics rules in American history — ones that would "close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely" — President Obama waived those rules for his nominee for Deputy Secretary of Defense, William Lynn, who was a registered lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon until last Fall.

The New York Times  recently told the story of the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch Tom Malinowski, who many in the human rights community wanted to be the President’s human rights chief. But he had been a lobbyist — on behalf of the victims of genocide, mind you — so he didn’t get the gig. And he didn’t get a waiver.

White House senor adviser David Axelrod told the Times that "it’s painful. There are a lot of good people out there who are philosophically simpatico with us and are very skilled and would be very valuable to us." But, he said, "you can’t have carve-outs for lobbyists you like and exclude those that you don’t. It would be very hard for people to understand that distinction. This is one of those cases where we’ve had to sacrifice the help of a lot of very valuable people."

In addition to the waiver for former Raytheon lobbyist Lynn, the White House in March also announced waivers for Jocelyn Frye, former general counsel at the National Partnership for Women & Families, and Cecilia Muñoz, the former senior vice president for the National Council of La Raza, allowing them to work on issues for which they lobbied.

Instead of granting waivers, the Obama White House appears to now be pursuing a new course for administration officials who lobbied or worked for interested private firms. Instead, these officials are signing letters of recusal detailing issue areas where they will not work so as to avoid conflicts of interest. An example: former Goldman Sachs lobbyist Mark Patterson, who now serves as the chief of staff for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

ABC News has been requesting copies of these letters of recusal since February, to no avail.

- jpt

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