When is a lobbyist not a lobbyist? 

What makes a lobbyist a lobbyist? According to many of Barack Obama's rules, the threshold is registration. If you lobby as part of your job but don't register, you can still serve on government panels, you are not covered by some of Obama's ethics rules, and you can still donate to Obama's campaign.

But plenty of people are in fact lobbyists without being registered. Take Andrew McLaughlin, the No. 2 tech policy guy at the White House, who was Google's VP for "global public policy and government affairs," until Obama hired him. He doesn't fit the Obama definition of lobbyist despite the fact his job was to influence government policy. The same goes for Isi Siddiqui, the agri-chem lobbyist who stopped registering as a lobbyist in 2004, even while his title at a lobbying organization was "vice president for science and regulatory affairs." Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, is also not registered as a lobbyist.

Whether they're simply flouting the law or being careful to stay on the non-lobbyist side of the line (for instance, spending less than 20 percent of their time making lobbying contacts), many of these non-registered lobbyists are now in the administration. Obama just used a recess appointment to install James M. Cole at Justice. Cole is a lawyer at a lobbying firm, and his firm describes his job as including "representation of corporations ... in congressional hearings ... and before federal agencies."

When I wrote about Cole for Monday, an aide to Associate Atty. Gen. Tom Perrelli questioned my description of Perrelli as a "former K Street lobbyist." Perrelli registered as a lobbyist for American victims of the 1998 embassy bombings, and his firm apparently took no payment for this. So, yeah, this isn't exactly the sort of lobbying that Obama or I is going to blink at.

Maybe Perrelli isn't a lobbyist in any important sense, but to say that, you have to agree that registration isn't the criteria for who counts as a lobbyist. Once you agree to go more by the nature of the work the individual does, Cole, McLaughlin, Stern, and Siddiqui have to be counted as lobbyists, it seems.

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Timothy P. Carney

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