WASHINGTON -- President-elect Barack Obama's transition co-chairman John Podesta pledged Tuesday "to make this the most open and transparent transition in history." Meanwhile, let's see if the Obama team provides more than the legal minimum when it comes to details on how private money is being raised to help bankroll the transition operation.
"Under President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden, the American people will see a transition of government that is efficient, that is organized, that is bipartisan and more open and transparent than others before," Podesta told reporters at a briefing.
And if by chance you thought that Obama's anti-federal lobbyist drive -- a centerpiece of his campaign -- would mean that federal lobbyists would not work in his transition or White House, then you have not been listening to Obama's carefully worded campaign promises on the subject. Federal lobbyists are welcome -- it would be hard to staff a transition without them, they usually know a lot -- there are just restrictions on what they can work on. Podesta unveiled ethics guidelines covering federal lobbyists who work for the Obama administration.
In all, Obama's transition is budgeted at $12 million -- $5.2 million from the federal government and $6.8 million from private donations. Last month, I broke the story on how the "transition project" was created as a nonprofit in order to allow the Obama team to fund-raise to pay for pre-election transition work Podesta was quietly overseeing.
All the private money will be raised from individuals and, as I reported earlier, there will be a $5,000 limit on donations. Federal lobbyists will not be allowed to contribute. There will not be any fund-raising events, but professional fund-raisers will be working on the transition. While the donors' names will be publicly disclosed later this month, there is usually more to the story in how the money was raised.
The transition project Podesta is steering is separate from the yet-to-be-formed inauguration committee, which will also do fund-raising.
The headquarters transition offices are housed in a government-owned building in downtown Washington.
Podesta's briefing drew RSVPs from more than 200 journalists, so many that the transition arranged for a listen-only conference call -- in order to pare down the number of reporters actually attending.
Still, about 140 showed up to see Podesta, a former Clinton White House chief of staff, standing behind a podium flanked with flags.
Podesta unveiled ethics rules for the transition team. In addition to federal lobbyists not being able to contribute to the transition, they can't lobby while working on the transition. If a person working on the transition has lobbied in the past 12 months, they can't work on the issues they lobbied.