WASHINGTON — There are no Secret Service agents posted next to the barista and no presidential seal on the ceiling, but the Caribou Coffee across the street from the White House has become a favorite meeting spot to conduct Obama administration business.
Here at the Caribou on Pennsylvania Avenue, and a few other nearby coffee shops, White House officials have met hundreds of times over the last 18 months with prominent K Street lobbyists — members of the same industry that President Obama has derided for what he calls its “outsized influence” in the capital.
On the agenda over espressos and lattes, according to more than a dozen lobbyists and political operatives who have taken part in the sessions, have been front-burner issues like Wall Street regulation, health care rules, federal stimulus money, energy policy and climate control — and their impact on the lobbyists’ corporate clients.
But because the discussions are not taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they are not subject to disclosure on the visitors’ log that the White House releases as part of its pledge to be the “most transparent presidential administration in history.”
The off-site meetings, lobbyists say, reveal a disconnect between the Obama administration’s public rhetoric — with Mr. Obama himself frequently thrashing big industries’ “battalions” of lobbyists as enemies of reform — and the administration’s continuing, private dealings with them.
Rich Gold, a prominent Democratic lobbyist who has taken part in a number of meetings at Caribou Coffee, said that White House staff members “want to follow the president’s guidance of reducing the influence of special interests, and yet they have to do their job and have the best information available to them to make decisions.”
Mr. Gold added that the administration’s policy of posting all White House visits, combined with pressure to not be seen as meeting too frequently with lobbyists, leave staff members “betwixt and between.”