White House Lobbyist Restrictions Aren’t Eased Much at All

By July 27, 2009General

The Hill ran a story, “White House eases stimulus lobbyist restriction,” with this thesis:

In a significant change, the Obama administration will now allow lobbyists to meet and have telephonic discussions with government officials regarding economic recovery projects…[snip]

In March, President Obama announced that government officials would not be allowed to consider the views of lobbyists regarding specific stimulus projects unless the requests are put in writing. The materials also had to be posted on an agency’s website within three business days of receipt. Lobbyists have said that the policy was one more example of the administration’s disdain for their industry.

Now, the just-revised rules will allow government personnel to accept meetings and calls from federally registered lobbyists on the implementation of stimulus projects. The head of the Office of Management and Budget, Peter Orszag, issued a new guidance late Friday regarding the administration’s communications with registered lobbyists about economic recovery funds.

The release of the guidance on the cusp of a summer weekend tells you that the Administration did not want to draw attention to the memo, probably for fear of being accused of hypocrisy or yet more OBama è mobile. Glenn Reynolds gibes, “Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

We wanted to congratulate the Administration for realizing it went too far. But in reading the guidance, we see many continued restrictions on free speech and the ability to petition the government for redress of grievances. The Obama Administration is still being cavalier about the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens, including but not limited to registered lobbyists.

During the period of time commencing with the submission of a formal application by an individual or entity for a competitive grant or other competitive form of Federal financial assistance under the Recovery Act, and ending with the award of the competitive funds, you may not participate in oral communications initiated by any person or entity concerning a pending application for a Recovery Act competitive grant or other competitive form of Federal financial assistance, whether or not the initiating party is a federally registered lobbyist. This restriction applies unless:

(i) the communication is purely logistical (Part A above);
(ii) the communication is made at a widely attended gathering (Part B above);
(iii) the communication is to or from a Federal agency official and another Federal Government employee;
(iv) the communication is to or from a Federal agency official and an elected chief executive of a state, local or tribal government, or to or from a Federal agency official and the Presiding Officer or Majority Leader in each chamber of a state legislature; or
(v) the communication is initiated by the Federal agency official.

So this remains forbidden: “Hi, John? I do hope you’ll take a look at Project 42. It will save the taxpayers $10 million. Thanks!”

And from the FAQ:

Q: I have received a request to meet with representatives of a corporation that has filed an application for a competitive grant. The representatives want to discuss the merits of the corporation’s proposal. The representatives are not federally registered lobbyists. May I speak with them?
A: No. Because the corporation has filed an application for a competitive grant, its representatives may not initiate communications with you orally about the merits of the application or proposal.

Bottom line: The White House forbids legitimate advocacy as improper. And, it’s depriving itself of useful information.

Earlier posts:

UPDATE (5:24 p.m.): The anti-business activists at Citizens for Reponsibility and Ethics in Washington, which protested the original rules, call the revised guidelines “smart policy.” They don’t really say why, though: “It is just good policy that once an application for a competitive loan or grant has been filed, no one – registered lobbyist or not – can lobby the government official responsible for handing out the taxpayer funds.” That’s just an assertion, which in effect endorses this position: One someone applies for a grant or loan under the stimulus, they no longer can petition the Executive Branch.

And they call that policy smart?

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Karl says:

    Come on, not even NAM could be this silly! You really think a lobbyist would say “It will save the taxpayers $10 million. Thanks!”

    More like “The organization that hired me as a lobbyist knows I can get your ear because I’m an ex-politician and I have tons of money at my disposal to buy your vote”. “We would love to hold that fundraiser for you if you would be so kind as to review Project 42”.

    Please name one lobbyist that was looking out for the good of the tax payers instead of the crooked organizations that pay them. One!

Leave a Reply