The Green Zone
Obama Expands Lobbying Ban
By Philip Rucker
The White House announced this afternoon it is bolstering its restriction on lobbying for stimulus funds by expanding the ban on communications with administration officials to include not only federally registered lobbyists but also consultants and other individuals who seek to exert influence over the spending process.
The changes would ban oral communications between the administration and any individual trying to influence the federal agencies tasked with awarding money from the government's $787 billion economic recovery program. Instead, communications must be in writing and will be posted on the Internet, according to a White House memorandum released this afternoon.
The administration's restriction will target the period after competitive grant applications are submitted and before awards are made, with the goal of ensuring that competition for stimulus funds is based on merit alone.
"It will, for the first time, break down the barrier, which everybody complains about, between registered lobbyists and non-registered lobbyists," said Norm Eisen, the White House ethics counsel, who authored the memorandum. "You're going to be reaching not just the lobbyists, but the influencers. It is a step forward in the president's commitment to pursue the public interest over the special interest."
Under the administration's prior rules, only federally registered lobbyists were banned from communicating with administration officials. Some companies sidestepped the restrictions by enlisting consultants, lawyers or other company officials who are not registered as lobbyists to try to pitch federal officials.
"Our concern was you're not going to let a lobbyist talk but you're going to have the corporate vice president talk?" said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that worked with the White House to develop the new rules. "This changes that to apply the rules in a more even-handed fashion."
Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, also applauded the administration's expanded restrictions. David Arkush, director of the group's Congress Watch division, said the policy would "ensure that the massive infusion of government funds to stimulate the economy is spent openly, by the books and with the public's interest in mind."
Posted at 6:49 PM ET on May 29, 2009
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