As a candidate, Barack Obama repeatedly pledged that no lobbyist would work in his White House. But does that policy apply to his auto companies? It’s a timely question, as General Motors, soon to be majority-owned by the U.S. government, announced this week that it planned to retain its in-house lobbying staff (although it is cancelling contracts with its outside lobbyists).

GM issued a statement explaining the decision, stating that the company has “an obligation to stay engaged” on key issues.

But stay engaged on whose behalf? While GM coyly declined to say whether the administration has given it guidance lobbying activities, it is clear to the most casual passer by that the firm won’t be contradicting its majority owner on any issue of substance in the near future. GM’s lobbyists will, for all practical purposes, be representing the government itself, or at least that part of it called “General Motors.” It’s more likely that the Secretary of Transportation will contradict the White House than will any GM spokesman.

The federal government simply shouldn’t be allowed to lobby itself. GM’s lobbying activities should be suspended, and its advocacy staff furloughed, until GM returns to private and independent ownership.