On March 20th, President Obama issued a directive to the heads of executive branch departments and agencies. The directive is aimed at achieving the laudable goal of ensuring merit based decision-making for grants and other forms of stimulus funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (usually referred to as the Stimulus Bill). It seems that while candidate Obama promised repeatedly during his campaign to limit the influence of lobbyists in Washington DC, the passage of the Stimulus Bill has sent record numbers of lobbyists to D.C. to scramble for federal dollars.
In apparent response to this, President Obama has singled out registered lobbyists and regulated their contacts with the executive branch. His directive provides that “executive department or agency officials shall not consider the view of a lobbyist registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, concerning particular projects, applications, or applicants for funding under the Recovery Act unless such views are in writing.” Officials are directed to inquire regarding the possible presence of registered lobbyists both upon the scheduling and commencement of phone calls and in-person conversations “with any person or entity concerning particular projects, applications, or applicants for funding under the Recovery Act.” If any registered lobbyists are detected, the directive forbids them from attending the meeting or participating in the phone call.
Not surprisingly, the American League of Lobbyists (ALL) has objected to the Obama Administrations restrictions. In a demonstration that politics does indeed sometimes make strange bedfellow, ALL has been joined by the ACLU and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). In a letter to the President released Tuesday, these three groups requested that President Obama rescind the constitutionally offensive provisions of the directive immediately.
As tempting a political target as they may be, registered lobbyists have a place in our political system and rights under our Constitution. The President should heed the groups’ advice and tailor his directive to enable transparency while not muzzling any voices–including those paid to advocate.