Shut Up

By March 30, 2009Briefly Legal

Remember this?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Now reconcile that with this:

(d) An executive department or agency official may communicate orally with registered lobbyists concerning general Recovery Act policy issues; provided, however, that such oral communications shall not extend to or touch upon particular projects, applications, or applicants for funding, and further that the official must contemporaneously or immediately thereafter document in writing: (i) the date and time of the contact on policy issues; (ii) the names of the registered lobbyists and the official(s) between whom the contact took place; and (iii) a short description of the substance of the communication. This writing must be posted publicly by the executive department or agency on its recovery website within 3 business days of the communication.

(e) Upon the scheduling of, and again at the outset of, any oral communications with any person or entity concerning general Recovery Act policy issues, an executive department or agency official shall inquire whether any of the individuals or parties appearing or communicating concerning such issues is a lobbyist registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. If so, the official shall comply with paragraph (d) above.

The provisions are part of President Obama’s March 20th directive to heads of executive departments and agencies with the subject, “Ensuring Responsible Spending of Recovery Act Funds.”

The memorandum contains numerous restrictions on contacts between registered lobbyists and executive branch officials on the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with an emphasis on transparency, speedy reporting of contacts, etc. The requirements are burdensome, will discourage legitimate communications, and one expects they will be inadvertently breached many times. Still, they would seem to pass constitutional muster.

But the restrictions on speaking to public officials about specific projects are an afront to the First Amendment’s protections of speech and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Registered lobbyists live under the same Constitution as the rest of America, and prohibiting one class of people from talking to the executive branch on projects financed by the taxpayers runs counter to this nation’s founding principles and current law.

Politico reports the ACLU, the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and American League of Lobbyists will send a letter to the White House protesting the restrictions. More…

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