The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


Washington Life

At the White House, Lobbyists Complain of Restrictions

By Dan Eggen
A group of lobbyists were invited into the White House Friday, where they aired complaints about new restrictions on registered lobbyists attempting to land stimulus money for their clients.

Under rules announced by President Obama last month, lobbyists are banned from making phone calls to government agencies about specific stimulus projects and must put all such communications in writing. Lobbyists may speak to government officials about general policy issues, the rules say, but all communications will be logged and posted on a government-run website focused on the stimulus plan.

An unusual alliance of groups, including the American League of Lobbyists, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), complain that the restrictions are unfair and impinge on First Amendment rights to petition the government. Representatives of the groups held a meeting on the complaints Friday afternoon with Obama's chief ethics adviser, Norm Eisen, who was one of the original co-founders of CREW.

Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, said Eisen and other administration lawyers seemed "surprised" that CREW, the ACLU and the lobbying league agreed on so many points, since the public-interest groups are often at loggerheads with lobbyists. She also said that the Obama officials "seemed comfortable with their position."

One White House official, who declined to be identified discussing the meeting, said the restrictions are "tough but fair to make sure that lobbyist communications are as transparent as possible.... They took exception to some of the specifics of the restrictions and we had an honest exchange about our differences."

The stimulus lobbying guidelines were introduced last month as a 60-day experiment of sorts, meaning that Eisen and his aides will be able to tweak the policy if needed, White House officials say. Sloan said it was unclear from the meeting whether the administration was considering any major revisions.

But Dave Wenhold, president of the lobbyist group, said in a statement that he is "look forward to working with the administration to create a policy which truly increases transparency for all, as opposed to the current guidelines which singles out some."

Wenhold's group has threatened to sue the administration on First Amendment grounds if the rules are not modified.

"Through the U.S. Constitution granting citizens the right to petition government, lobbyists help citizens communicate factual information on a wide range of important issues," Wenhold said. "...Keeping lobbyists out of the discussion also keeps out the millions of citizens they represent."

Posted at 6:33 PM ET on Apr 24, 2009  | Category:  Washington Life
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It's really ashame that real people acting in their own interests may have to petition their elected representatives. Lobbyists have become part of the problem in Washington. Big money flowing freely to Congressmen and women has corrupted the normal process of representation in Washington. Perhaps something can be worked out. However, Obama did campaign on lobbying reform. It appears that he is doing just that. Hooray for him!

Posted by: EarlC | April 25, 2009 10:25 PM

Bits and pieces of our country have been on the auction block for many years now. To many politicians have become fat, lazy, and BOUGHT. Our system for elections necessitates wealth. Selling influence to the highest bidder is the only way to ensure sufficient support and funds for the next election.

Posted by: ChoKum | April 25, 2009 8:28 PM

I am proud of the administration, and our President for imposing these rules. “The millions of citizens that are represented by lobbyist?” I think that quote left out the for a large fee part. Most Americans have desired this kind of policy when working with our government for quite some time. We want transparency and want to make sure that it is not so engulfed in legal terms that our representatives will explain it in such a way that leaves no misunderstanding of who benefits from the agreement.

That to me is responsible government!
Peter Silva

Posted by: Silva4congress | April 25, 2009 3:23 PM

"Through the U.S. Constitution granting citizens the right to petition government, lobbyists help citizens communicate factual information on a wide range of important issues," Wenhold said. "...Keeping lobbyists out of the discussion also keeps out the millions of citizens they represent."

What a load of malicious twaddle. Lobbyists are organized criminals involved in suborning, with great ease, the prostitutes in the Congress and Senate. To call them "lobbyists" is to give them a veneer of legitimacy to their criminal activities.

Posted by: garrafa10 | April 25, 2009 2:40 PM

I am proud to be a lobbyist for many who do not have time or cannot afford to be in the nation's capital as much as it takes to be effective. I learned a great deal about how our government works during a decade on Capitol Hill. For the past 21 years, I have provided a voice to nonprofit, university, hospital and corporate leaders who want to help in the search for solutions to our economic problems and a better quality of life. Every American has a constitutional right to participate in our government.

Lobbyists are experts on many subjects. A lobbyist's role is to educate and communicate with Congress, the administration and the public about issues vital to Americans. Preventing registered, legally compliant lobbyists from filling that role is detrimental to good government.

Demonizing the lobbying profession will only lead to less transparency and less accountability because it will cause people to de-register to avoid being stigmatized. I share President Obama's goal of achieving good government -- I just don't agree with Norm Eisen or his methods for getting there.

Posted by: tmfulton | April 25, 2009 2:32 PM

Interesting comments but the bottom line is that the Obama administration is banning a group of people, like them or not, from participating in the government and that is unconstitutional.

What most people don’t get is it isn’t hurting the lobbyists but doing damage to the millions of people that they represent. Did you know that cities who are supposed to get some of the stimulus can’t because they won’t even have a conversation with their representatives? Or how about this, that no one else is required to have their information posted. Wouldn’t you like to know and aren’t you entitled to know what your government is doing regardless of who they are meeting with?

Sure beat up on the lobbyists, they are the diversion while the real backdoor meetings continue to take place and the people who raise hundreds of thousands for the president’s election can walk in and have conversations and never report them. Seriously who do you think has more influence, a lobbyist who have to comply and be fully transparent and that did not donate to the campaign or someone that raised a ton of cash for the president and doesn’t have to register? Common sense should prevail here and not jump to beat up on a profession that people actually know very little about.

Posted by: 1stAmendment | April 25, 2009 2:16 PM

For the first time, I am seeing these corrupt and sleazy manipulators brought to heel through a relatively modest proposal requiring them to put their requests to the government in writing. No more inviting bureaucrats for lunch or dinner, no more offering free trips. Making them outline their bribes in writing is going to make prosecutions much easier, which is why they are screaming so loudly. We have seen too much of the Abramoffs and others take advantage of loose lobbying rules. Cloaking their illicit activities in the Constitutional right to petition the government is a ruse to try and continue activities that are clearly illegal.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | April 25, 2009 12:33 PM

Has anybody told these sobs that there is a new sheriff in town?

Posted by: analyst72 | April 25, 2009 10:33 AM

As a citizen, I can not phone high-level government officials and discuss policy with them. Does that mean my first amendment rights are being violated.

Really? As a citizen, you absolutely have every right to phone, meet with or write to high-level government officials. Who is stopping you?

It is unfortunate that the Jack Abramoffs of the lobbying world get all the press. There are a lot of lobbyists out there and most play by the rules which, contrary to popular belief, are quite restrictive. Money under the table is bribery, not lobbying.

It makes no sense that a lobbyist for Company X is prohibited from making a phone call or going to a meeting but the CEO of Company X who is not a registered lobbyist is not restricted in any way. They have the same purpose, just different titles.

I'm all for transparency. Many federal agencies, such as the FCC, already have procedures for meeting transparency. It seems the Obama administration is simply pandering to anti-lobbyist sentiment which is pretty smart given the prevailing attitudes. I am Obama supporter but this mandate needs further review.

Posted by: DCGirl13 | April 24, 2009 10:37 PM

These same lobbyists are lucky the American people don't have their wish for a national referendum to DO AWAY with all of them once and for all. We're sick of our government being for sale to the highest bidder. Cry me a river on this one! They are all scumbags feeding at the public trough. They all belong in jail along with their criminal corporate masters and the cretins in Congress who accept and seek their bribes.

Posted by: capone1 | April 24, 2009 10:30 PM

As a citizen, I can not phone high-level government officials and discuss policy with them. Does that mean my first amendment rights are being violated?

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | April 24, 2009 8:57 PM

ROTFL LMAO!!!!!! Turn K ST NW into ghost town...

Posted by: demtse | April 24, 2009 8:45 PM

ROTFL LMAO!!!!!! Turn K ST NW into ghost town...

Posted by: demtse | April 24, 2009 8:43 PM

I understand why lobbyists would complain -- I mean after all these years of being able to buy politicians....

Make them put it all in writing -- then you have a paper trail as to who said and did what and when.

Posted by: abby0802 | April 24, 2009 7:11 PM

Lobbyists complaining about restrictions?

Then Obama must be doing something right.

Posted by: JRM2 | April 24, 2009 7:00 PM

It's interesting that the con-artists, I mean, lobbyists don't want all their communications in writing. It's interesting, but it's certainly not surprising. We have a right to know exactly how they attempt to persuade our lawmakers to abandon the interests of people they're supposed to be representing and replace it with the narrow, short sighted interests of their employers. ACLU and CREW are wrong on this. Lobbyists would still have access to petition, but it would be harder for them to wink wink and pass money under the table.

Take names of those who fight this measure.

Posted by: rooster54 | April 24, 2009 6:57 PM

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