The Brownstein, Hyatt advertisement as seen on the Wall Street Journal home page
President Obama will probably talk tonight about "clean" energy. One thing to remember is that while it may be clean, environment-wise, the very act of the government picking and choosing energy firms and technologies to favor opens the door for favoritism of a sort that doesn't exactly bring to mind the word "clean."
The lobbyists are astonishingly brazen about this. Check out the accompanying screen grab of the advertisement now running on the Wall Street Journal home page, from the law and lobbying firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck, whose activities we have been chronicling on this site (see here, here, and here, for example). The ad boasts, "Expertise in sustainable energy law is worth nothing without connections. Learn how we've helped clients obtain funding from the Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act."
The ad links to a page of the law firm's Web site, which itself boasts, "Brownstein was integral in helping six energy clients – Amyris Biotechnologies, Celgard, NV Energy, Solazyme Inc., Sun Catalytix Corporation and ZeaChem Inc. –obtain more than $300 million in grants through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act from the Department of Energy."
All I can say is if this were a big Republican political donor-lobbyist boasting about having obtained $300 million in federal stimulus money through "connections," the press, including the Wall Street Journal, would be all over it as an investigative news article a la Jack Abramoff, rather than as an advertisement. As it is it's just this site and Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner on the story.
I'm all for the First Amendment right of petition and for lobbyists' ability to exercise their First Amendment rights of speech and campaign contributions. And if I had a clean energy firm or an investment in one, I'd probably hire Brownstein, Hyatt, myself. But President Obama should be as furious at these guys as he claims he is at BP -- they are just as much of an embarrassment. They undermine the idea that in America you get ahead, or get government funding, on the basis of merit rather than on the basis of "connections" or hiring the right lobbyists.
As we said before:
On March 20 , President Obama issued a memo stating "The Recovery Act is designed to stimulate the economy through measures that, among other things, modernize the Nation's infrastructure, jump start American energy independence, expand high-quality educational opportunities, preserve and improve access to affordable health care, provide middle-class tax relief, and protect those in greatest need. It is not intended to fund projects for special interests." The memo went on: "An executive department or agency official shall not consider the view of a lobbyist registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. 1601 et seq., concerning particular projects, applications, or applicants for funding under the Recovery Act unless such views are in writing."
The memo also says, "All written communications from a registered lobbyist concerning the commitment, obligation, or expenditure of funds under the Recovery Act for particular projects, applications, or applicants shall be posted publicly by the receiving agency or governmental entity on its recovery website within 3 business days after receipt of such communication."
In other words, the Obama administration's stated policy is that lobbyists can't talk to the executive branch about applications for stimulus funding unless the communications are in writing, and that in that case, the communications must be immediately posted to the agency Web site. The lobbying reports for the second quarter for both Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP and for Capitol Tax Partners, LLP indicate that the Treasury and Energy Departments were lobbied in relation to the stimulus act. But neither the Treasury nor the Energy Web sites contain documentation of any communications from the two lobbying firms. What accounts for the discrepancy?
When President Obama announced his memo, he spoke of what he called "a fundamental commitment." He said, "Decisions about how Recovery Act dollars are spent will be based on the merits. Let me repeat that: Decisions about how Recovery money will be spent will be based on the merits. They will not be made as a way of doing favors for lobbyists. Any lobbyist who wants to talk with a member of my administration about a particular Recovery Act project will have to submit their thoughts in writing, and we will post it on the Internet for all to see. If any member of my administration does meet with a lobbyist about a Recovery Act project, every American will be able to go online and see what that meeting was about. These are unprecedented restrictions that will help ensure that lobbyists don't stand in the way of our recovery."
Question for Brownstein, Hyatt and the Obama administration: Where on the Internet are posted the communications between the administration and Brownstein, Hyatt regarding the stimulus funding for Amyris Biotechnologies, Celgard, NV Energy, Solazyme Inc., Sun Catalytix Corporation and ZeaChem Inc?