Why the BP-CAP-White House axis matters 

Folks often talk about lobbyists, special interests, and politicians in a way that is more black-and-white than the real world — assuming influence is always corrupt, campaign contributions are always bribery, that businesses are either FOR or AGAINST a measure, and that politicians’ stances are either for or against a special interest.

I realize I am guilty of this at times, but more frequently, others read such stark implications into my writing. I have left liberal blogger Matt Yglesias (whom I met briefly this weekend and liked) with a false impression today regarding my points on BP and the Obama administration.

Liberal activist John Podesta, Yglesias’s boss at the Center for American Progress, is playing a central role in crafting Obama’s BP response, according to a Wall Street Journal blogger. John Podesta’s brother, I pointed out this morning, is a BP lobbyist. My pointing this out — and pointing out earlier coincidences of CAP initiatives and Podesta Group lobbying — elicited this tweet from Yglesias: “If [Tim Carney] really thinks CAP’s work on the oil spill is driven by a desire to help BP he should come out and say so”.

No, I don’t think CAP is trying “to help BP” here. I do think it’s relevant, though, that the White House, CAP, and BP have many shared agenda items, and BP was working with Dems to draft a climate bill as recently as late April — after the Deepwater Horizon sank.

Now that the President is trying to use BP as a lever to advance climate legislation, it’s worth pointing out that one of the President’s advisor’s is the brother of a lobbyist for BP, who also supports Democratic climate legislation.

Also, lobbying is more about access than favors, I think. BP has some more access to the White House than you might have thought. BP’s arguments can trickle from Tony Podesta’s mouth into John Podesta’s ear and then into the President’s ear without any mind-control or bribery. But BP gains because people are more affected by the arguments they hear than the ones they don’t, and more affected by arguments from their brother or their advisors than from others.

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Timothy P. Carney

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