Sunday, April 25, 2004

News Flash: Cheney In Bed With Special Interests

Okay, I know that's not really a news flash, since we all know this already, but more disturbing news is coming out about corporate influence on policy, the nexus of special interests lobbyists and government bureaucracy, and Dick Cheney's infamous and very secretive Energy Task Force.
The executive director of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, whose closed-door meetings with industry executives enraged environmentalists and prompted a Supreme Court showdown this week, became an energy lobbyist just months after leaving the White House, records show.

Andrew Lundquist, a native Alaskan who worked on Capitol Hill for both his state's senators, shepherded the development of the administration's energy policy as executive director of the National Energy Policy Development Group, a Cabinet-level task force chosen by President Bush and headed by Cheney.

When the task force completed its work, Lundquist stayed on at the White House as Cheney's energy policy director, leading the vice president's effort to turn the task force's work into law.

Then, a day after leaving government service, he opened a consulting business. Nine months later, Lundquist was a registered lobbyist for companies that stood to benefit from the energy policy he helped craft, according to 2003 lobby disclosure records reviewed by the Globe.

This guy is a classic case of what has gone wrong with our democratic system. Hopefully, some court rulings to come will help clear this up for us and rally public support for reforms.

Lundquist's behind-the-scenes role as policy coordinator, vice presidential aide, and ultimately as a lobbyist for energy companies highlights some of the concerns that have led consumer groups to seek the opening of the task force's records.

Environmental groups contend the task force met with companies seeking benefits under the bill but did not grant equal access to people challenging those positions.

Cheney has refused to release the records. When a federal judge agreed to allow some records to be reviewed in the discovery process, Cheney did not comply, pushing the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear it on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, another environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, drew on the fact that Lundquist was paid by the Department of Energy to seek his task force records under the Freedom of Information Act, which covers the department. When a court ordered the records released, the administration again refused, putting Lundquist in the middle of the administration's battle over the secrecy of its energy dealings.

Thank God for the Freedom of Information Act. It's time we expand it to a full constitutional amendment. I'd love to see, for once, some of our most popular bloggers champion this issue. Everyone loves the complaints and spotlight on malfeasance and corruption that our leading bloggers frequently issue. But once in awhile we need to hear about institutional and legal remedies we can take to stop this from happening before it occurs, or have greater remedy to act against it in a speedier fashion once underway. In other words, reform.