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Watchdogs concerned about Daley appointment

From Msnbc.com's Carrie Dann
The good government nerds are not happy.

President Barack Obama’s selection of Bill Daley -- a former JP Morgan Chase and SBC Communications executive with the most famous last name in Chicago -- to be his top aide has re-assembled a bevy of critics on the left who have recently griped about Obama’s recent overtures to business groups.

Daley’s selection has riled many of the same groups -- including MoveOn.org and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee -- who grumbled at Obama’s inability to force the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for top earners. But the selection is also causing unease among another nonpartisan groups in Washington that have typically given the president a fairly favorable report card.

“Good government” organizations -- which advocate for federal transparency, accountability, and independence from special interests -- are fretting that Obama’s decision to install Daley as his top aide shows that the White House is turning a blind eye to its own commitment to clean and open government.

Paul Blumenthal of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for government openness, says that Obama’s selection of Daley violates the spirit of his White House’s promise to choke the easy access of special interests to the highest levels of government power.

And that’s becoming a pattern, he added.

“They choose where to enforce [rules for special interests] and where not to,” says Paul Blumenthal of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, “And it seems fairly arbitrary in a lot of instances.”

Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for campaign reform organization Common Cause, warned that Daley’s ties to several of the nation’s most prominent corporations could signal a speeding up -- not a jamming -- of the “revolving door” between government and lobbyists.

“We hope that this is not a retreat in any way from when Obama took office and made very significant steps in terms of putting a firewall between special interests and the White House,” said Boyle, “We’ll be watching.”

At the beginning of his presidency, Obama won accolades from ethics groups for instituting a ban on registered lobbyists serving in federal agencies which they had lobbied within the previous two years. He also ordered that political appointees who leave government cannot lobby executive branch officials for the remainder of his administration.

But the author of those directives, ethics counsel Norm Eisen, departed his job as the White House’s transparency “czar” in favor of an ambassadorship. Obama’s OMB Director Peter Orszag, once a champion of more comprehensive public spending data, is now a banking executive at Citigroup.

In recent months, Blumenthal said, some of the most promising online transparency projects backed by those allies in the administration have since fizzled.

“Overall, the language and the intentions have been incredibly positive, but a lot of the initiatives that we’ve seen -- the Open Government initiative, Data.gov, a lot of other things to present information to the public -- have really crashed to a halt,” he said.