Groups May Sue Over Lobbying Restrictions

Posted March 31, 2009 at 11:51am

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American League of Lobbyists put their opposition to the Obama administration’s lobbying restrictions on stimulus funds in writing Tuesday, asking for major changes to the executive branch’s rule.

Should the administration refuse to alter the lobbying requirements, a legal challenge is “seriously [being] discussed,— said David Wenhold, president of ALL.

The groups co-signed a letter to White House Counsel Gregory Craig, arguing that the restrictions will not accomplish the administration’s goal of increasing transparency in disbursing monies that are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Obama administration memo released late last month 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 proposed 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.

“Banning lobbyists from in-person and telephonic communications will not advance the stated purpose of ensuring public transparency and accountability and avoiding improper influence and pressure in the decision-making process,— the trio wrote.

The letter points out that several individuals have greater influence on the stimulus spending process than lobbyists, including non-lobbyists who made significant campaign contributions to Obama and Congressional candidates and powerful corporate executives. The letter-signers also note that Members of Congress are not prohibited from influencing funding decisions.

The groups argue that their constitutional rights are being violated because the rule applies only to lobbyists.

Alternatively, they would like to “require disclosure of any and all communications with executive branch officials regarding a particular project, application or applicant funding,— according to the letter.

Opening the communications to all individuals who discuss stimulus projects would increase the transparency, they argue.