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New Lobbying Restrictions from Obama

By Dan Eggen
President Obama announced guidelines Friday aimed at preventing waste and limiting the influence of lobbyists on the $787 economic stimulus package, declaring that the rules "will help ensure that we are proving ourselves worthy of the great trust the American people have placed in us."

"This plan cannot and will not be an excuse for waste and abuse," Obama told a group of state legislators gathered in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

The guidelines specify that stimulus funds cannot be used on "imprudent projects" such as zoos, golf courses, aquariums, casinos and swimming pools. Obama said priority will be given to projects that create the most jobs "so we can get the most gain out of every single taxpayer buck."

To guard against undue influence from special interests, Obama also said the administration will publicly release all requests from lobbyists who want to meet with administration officials about particular stimulus projects. The requests will have to be in writing and will be posted on the Internet along with details from the meetings, he said.

Decisions on how to spend stimulus money, Obama said, "will not be made as a way of doing favors for lobbyists."

The guidelines mark the latest attempt by Obama to promise a high level of transparency and accountability in connection with the stimulus package, which has set off a stampede among states and major corporations hoping to get a share of federal spending on new roads, highways, rail lines and clean energy and other infrastructure projects. Many state officials have begun complaining about the lack of guidance from the administration, which is still scrambling to formulate rules for doling out the money.

"No plan is perfect, and I can't stand here and promise you that not one dollar will slip through the cracks," Obama told members of the National Conference of State Legislatures. "But what I can promise you is that we will do everything in our power to prevent that from happening."

Obama also met privately Friday afternoon with three of the nation's most vocal stimulus backers -- Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). The three local leaders said they discussed possible approaches with Obama for distributing the stimulus funds, including the idea of creating an "infrastructure bank" to leverage more spending by issuing bonds.

Schwarzenegger, who has been a rare Republican supporter of the stimulus, said afterwards that the group "let the president know that we are 100 percent behind him on this, to go out and to sell this to the American people."

"Not only does it help us make our economy function better, but also it helps us in creating jobs," Schwarzenegger said.

Posted at 7:46 PM ET on Mar 20, 2009  | Category:  The Green Zone
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