Groups to White House: Halt stimulus lobbying ban

Tuesday, March 31, 2009
By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON —  Lobbyists and two public interest groups asked the White House Tuesday to rescind its ban on lobbyists discussing stimulus package projects with Obama administration officials, saying it violated free speech and would still allow access for others seeking money from the measure.

As a middle ground, the groups suggested requiring the posting of information describing all such contacts with government officials _ not just those involving lobbyists _ on the Internet.

"Banning lobbyists from engaging in oral communications, but not bank vice presidents, corporate directors, and others who might seek to influence decision makers is unlikely to result in any real public benefit," opponents of the prohibitions wrote in a letter to White House counsel Gregory Craig.

In a memo to federal agencies March 20, President Barack Obama barred registered lobbyists from speaking to government officials about specific projects they are seeking in the $787 billion economic stimulus package enacted earlier this year. They may submit written statements, which agencies are to post publicly online.

"The goal is full transparency," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said Tuesday, adding that lobbyists can still provide their views in writing. "That fully respects freedom of speech _ while at the same time ending closed-door lobbyist dealmaking in favor of sunlight."

By singling out lobbyists, "The administration is responding to the popular political idea that lobbyists are the bad guys, rather than special interests," Caroline Fredrickson, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington lobbying office, said in a conference call with reporters.

"This isn't how a democracy works, it's how a totalitarian government works," Dave Wenhold, president of the American League of Lobbyists, said during the call.

The ACLU joined the lobbyists' group and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which favors greater government accountability, in the letter to the White House.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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