Facepalm Ratings Guide= Even if there's no conflict of interest, appearances matter.
Click here to join POGO's Un-Do Influence campaign: a movement to end the undue influence that powerful corporate interests have on our federal government.
By JOE NEWMAN
From Wikipedia: A facepalm (sometimes also face-palm or face palm) is the physical gesture of placing one's hand flat across one's face or lowering one's face into one's hand or hands. The gesture is found in many cultures as a display of frustration, embarrassment, shock, or surprise.
Our facepalm ratings are intended to shine a light on the people who through their conflicts of interest, influence peddling and trips through the revolving door are doing their part to undermine our faith in government.
Study after study shows that well-financed lobbyists -- who are often major political fundraisers and contributors -- have a real impact on how our government officials and elected leaders make public policy. Likewise, people who move through the revolving door between government and industry have the type of insider access that gives them an unfair competitive advantage when it comes to influencing everything from how contracts are awarded to whether wrongdoing is investigated. Corporate lobbyists do more than advocate for or against legislation, often times, they actually write the bills or talking points that members of Congress use.
Consider our facepalm ratings a way to not only express our frustration with the system but a way to build some momentum for reform through our Un-Do Influence Campaign. Unfortunately, we don't expect to ever run out of deserving recipients.
No Veiled Threats Here
You got to give Chris Dodd some credit. In this day of behind-the-scenes lobbying and the influence that goes along with campaign spending, the former U.S. senator gave us a candid look at how the game actually works in the nation's capital.
Dodd, now the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, didn't mince words when he vented to Fox News about the sudden and dramatic loss of congressional support for the Stop Online Piracy and Protect IP acts. Protests from millions of internet users helped derail the bills, handing the motion picture and recording indistries a devastating setback. Dodd was livid:
"Candidly, those who count on quote 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake."
Talk about a civics lesson. Dodd straight up called out his former Democratic colleagues and told them to toe the line or they're apt to not only lose their invitations to the next George Clooney screening but also see an end to that Hollywood gravy train.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the TV/Movies/Music industry has given nearly $19 million this election cycle to candidates, political parties and outside groups. Of that amount, 71 percent has gone to support Democrats.
For his "transparency" in showing us how campaign spending is used to influence the White House and members of Congress, Dodd earns three facepalms.
Regulator's Future was in Futures
Usually, when you fail miserably at your job, there are consequences. For instance, it's probably something you'll want to leave off your resume when you’re looking to make your next career move.
Unless, of course, you’re someone like Walter Lukken, who went from being the government’s top commodities regulator to recently taking a high-paying job as the top lobbyist for the Futures Industry Association, or FIA.
Apparently FIA wasn’t too concerned that as acting chairman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, Lukken told Congress in 2008 that the skyrocketing price of oil futures was just your standard supply-and-demand market fluctuation. Should investors and taxpayers be concerned that the government's top commodities regulator didn't sound the alarm about what was really causing the bubble -- the crazy, highly questionable, speculative trading fueled by firms like Goldman Sachs? Doh.
For providing us a fine example of how the revolving door can raise troubling questions about someone's past motivations, we present Walter with four facepalms.
You Spin Us Right Round (Like a Record)
The revolving door that carried William Lynn III from Raytheon Corp. to the number 2 job at the Pentagon had hardly stopped spinning when Lynn decided last October it was time to cash out for another job in the private sector.
Lynn's latest move appears to have landed him a job as the chief executive officer at DRS Technologies, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, the giant Italian aerospace and defense firm.
If you recall, when Obama appointed Lynn deputy secretary of defense, it came with a waiver to the president's prohibition on lobbyists joining his administration to work on issues they had previously lobbied. Raytheon, of course, is one of the five largest U.S. defense contractors and as one of the company's top lobbyists, Lynn worked Capitol Hill relentlessly on Raytheon's behalf.
As POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said at the time, "The defense industry is in a class of its own among all of the industries that have had a pervasive stranglehold on public policy to advance their own financial interests."
Lynn's career illustrates how the revolving door works in Washington. He parlayed his experience and contacts working for the Senate Armed Services Committee and as a high-ranking defense official in President Clinton's administration into a job with Raytheon, which has a long history of hiring former generals, DoD officals and lawmakers because of their insider access. We're sure his connections to the Obama administration will serve his new stockholders well.
We're giving Lynn a facepalm for each of his trips through the revolving door.
A Disclosure Double-Standard
Obviously, the Food and Drug Administration is sensitive to conflict of interest issues, or else they wouldn’t have told a consumer advocate that he couldn’t vote during a Dec. 8 joint committee meeting to weigh the risks and benefits of Bayer’s Yaz/Yasmin oral contraceptive.
You see, the consumer advocate, Public Citizen's Dr. Sidney Wolfe, had previously spoken out about the dangers of the pills, which have been linked to fatal blood clots in some users.
Yet, in the Bizarro World that is the FDA, it never occurred to the FDA that four other members of that joint committee might have potential conflicts, as well. Three members had received research grants from Bayer—one of the members was specifically paid to study Yaz/Yasmin. Another member had ties to a company that was licensed to produce the generic version of Bayer’s contraceptive.
FDA officials were aware of the potential conflicts but never brought them up during the December meeting. The FDA needs to overhaul the way it discloses this kind of information. The buck stops with FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
Joe Newman is POGO's Director of Communications.