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Trade Groups Go After Obama Ethics Rules

Leading Washington, D.C., trade association executives remain so irate over the Obama administration's new draft ethics rules for government employees that they've asked White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley for a meeting.

"We believe that policies restricting knowledge-sharing between the government and trade associations are counterproductive to the administration's stated aspirations to work in partnership with the business community to create jobs and grow the economy," wrote 40 members of the American Society of Association Executives in an Oct. 12 letter to Daley.

Those signing the letter sit on the ASAE's Key Industry Associations Committee and represent such diverse trade groups as the National Retail Federation; the Grocery Manufacturers Association; the National Automobile Dealers Association; and the Edison Electric Institute.

The Office of Government Ethics triggered a lobbyist backlash last month when it released draft rules to implement an Obama administration proposal to expand the executive branch lobbyist gift ban from political appointees to all government workers. That ban includes free attendance by government workers at widely attended gatherings.

"We think there's a lot to be learned at a number of [association] programs, trade shows," said Jim Clarke, ASAE's senior vice president for public policy. He added that "federal employee[s] ought to be able to see what's happening" in the retail, grocery, contractors, automobile dealers and other key American industries.

ASAE members particularly object to an exemption in the proposed OGE rules that would allow federal workers to accept free invitations to gatherings hosted by 501(c)3 nonprofits, higher-education institutions, scientific organizations and learned societies. Trade association events "offer the same benefits to government employees and should qualify for the same exclusion" as those educational and other groups, read the ASAE letter to Daley.

The association will submit public comments along similar lines to the OGE next week, Clarke said. Additionally, as many as two-dozen trade associations from around the country are preparing their own comments to OGE, noted Clarke. He said association executives are "very upset" about the proposed rules. ASAE executives have also sought a meeting with OGE officials, so far without success.

Administration officials have said that the government worker and other ethics restrictions are consistent with the administration's larger good-government and lobbying-reform objectives.

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