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Lobbyists Livid Over No-Speaking Rule

Irate over the demonization of their profession, lobbyists say they will push back against a new White House directive aimed at limiting lobbyists’ influence on how the government doles out $787 billion in stimulus funds.

The Obama administration memo released Friday says lobbyists cannot meet or speak with executive branch officials regarding specific stimulus projects or applications.

Instead, lobbyists are relegated to submitting written comments about stimulus funding, which will be posted publicly within three business days.

Lobbyists may talk with administration officials as long as the conversation is about “general Recovery Act policy issues,” according to the memo.

However, executive branch and agency staff must still document the date of those meetings, who was at the meetings and what was discussed for the public to review within three business days.

Several lobbyists e-mailed back and forth furiously over the weekend, expressing their outrage over the new rules and the possibility that the Obama administration might expand the provisions beyond the stimulus package.

“It’s setting up a behavior of discrimination of law-abiding citizens,” American League of Lobbyists President David Wenhold said about the new rules.

Wenhold, who has been fielding e-mails and calls from upset members, said ALL is in discussions with its board over what action it should take.

While the ALL board has made no decisions yet, Wenhold said it is keeping all options open, including litigation.

“This smacks of segregation, discrimination, and I honestly feel it is unconstitutional,” Wenhold said.

Some lobbyists, such as Golin Harris’ Michael Fulton, said the new policy is not only upsetting but will also end up hurting Obama’s goal of jump-starting the economy.

“I am personally offended, and so are many of our clients,” Fulton said. “The White House and the president need to understand that the lobbying community is part of the solution, not the problem.”

Fulton, who recently registered to represent the National Insulation Association in Reston, Va., says the trade group has been taking its message of energy conservation and job growth to Congress and the White House for the first time.

“For them to tell us we can’t go to the Department of Energy or we need to go through all these hoops for a meeting to talk about pursuing stimulus dollars is absolutely outrageous,” Fulton said.

Laurence Bory, who represents a coalition of 50 of the largest engineering firms, agrees.

“This is just the latest in a series of official pronouncements from the White House that essentially puts us as second-class citizens despite the fact that we’re required to file more reports on our activity than anybody else,” said Bory, who is also an ALL board member.

Other lobbyists applaud Obama’s attempt to create more transparency but argue that the provision should go beyond just federal lobbyists.

“I’ll embrace it with open arms if anybody who reaches out to the White House and has meetings with the White House are held to the same standards as lobbyists are,” said Paul Miller of Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies.

Ethics reformers defend the Obama administration’s efforts.

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