Watchdogs want Obama to rescind lobbying rules

A coalition of groups says the White House's policy for lobbyists seeking funding under the stimulus law is too strict and won't achieve its intended purpose.

The Obama administration’s rules for lobbyists seeking funding under the economic stimulus law restrict of freedom of speech and won't increase transparency, according to a coalition of lobbying and watchdog groups.

The American League of Lobbyists and two other organizations are urging the Obama administration to rescind portions of a March 20 memorandum, the third section of which establishes new restrictions and transparency requirements for registered lobbyists who communicate with the administration regarding money from the stimulus law.

According to the memo, registered lobbyists are banned from having phone or face-to-face conversations with administration officials about specific projects or programs covered by the law. General informational queries are acceptable.

Although written communications are permitted, officials must post lobbyists’ stimulus requests on the Recovery.gov Web site within three days of receipt.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington joined the lobbyists’ organization in saying that the policy is too strict and infringes on freedom of speech.

“Lobbying is a constitutionally protected activity,” the groups wrote in a letter to White House Counsel Gregory Craig on March 31. “The right to petition the government equally is one of the main tenets of our country’s founding principles. [The policy] is an ill-advised restriction on speech and not narrowly tailored to achieve the intended purpose.”

Furthermore, because the policy applies only to registered lobbyists, it would result in more informal communications with corporate officials.

As an alternative, they suggest a disclosure policy that also applies to non-registered lobbyists such as bank vice presidents and corporate directors.

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