January 27, 2009 -- Despite President Barack Obama's pledge to limit the influence of lobbyists in his administration, a recent lobbyist for investment banking giant Goldman Sachs is in line to serve as chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Mark Patterson was a registered lobbyist for Goldman until April 11, 2008, according to public filings.
Patterson first began lobbying for Goldman Sachs in 2005, after working as policy director for then-Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. According to publicly filed lobbying disclosure records, he worked on issues related to the banking committee, climate change and carbon trading and immigration reform, among others.
Patterson's lobbying was first noted by the National Journal magazine.
Patterson is one of over a dozen recent lobbyists in line for important posts in the Obama administration, despite a presidential order severely restricting the role of lobbyists in his administration, the magazine reported.
The Obama administration's limitation on lobbyists isn't a direct ban. Lobbyists are still allowed to be a part of the administration working on areas that they have not lobbied on. But the potential appointment of Patterson and others raise questions about just how much the Obama administration will be able to move away from the revolving door model of business that has become so common inside the Beltway.
"Considering that Goldman was an early and large recipient of our TARP funding, being pulled out of that really does effect his ability to be an effective chief of staff for the treasury secretary," said Steve Ellis, president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Patterson has spent most of his career in Congress. He served as special assistant to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan from 1985-88. And following law school at Catholic University, he worked as an attorney in private pratice for several years before rejoined Moynihan's staff as legislative director. He then served as chief counsel to the Senate Finance Committee and later served as policy director for Daschle.
Chief of Staff Operates Behind Closed Doors, Hard for Outsiders to Monitor, Watchdog Says
But even if he recuses himself from matters related to Goldman, there is little outside oversight. The position of chief of staff is appointed by the secretary of treasury and does not require Senate approval. And with Geithner's confirmation by the Senate Monday, Patterson's appointment is all but completed. What's more is much of how the chief of staff operates is behind closed doors, Ellis noted, and it's difficult for outsiders to monitor.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment on "speculation" that Patterson would be tapped, as several outlets have reported. A Goldman spokesperson declined to comment and directed calls to the administration. Patterson could not be reached for comment.
Criticism has also erupted over Obama's choice of William J. Lynn, a government relations executive for defense contracting giant Raytheon, to be Deputy Secretary of Defense.
The White House waived ethics restrictions that would have barred Lynn from working on issues that could affect Raytheon. According to the Pentagon, Lynn would still need approval from the Pentagon general counsel or Secretary Robert Gates to do so.
These questions, said Craig Hollman of Public Citizen, show that there should be a more transparent screening process in the Obama adminstration. "This is a brand new ethics policy, so I think there are kinks."