It Just Got Easier to Lobby Federal Agencies

President Obama wanted to limit lobbyists' influence on government but found it's easier said than done. President Obama wanted to limit lobbyists' influence on government but found it's easier said than done. Steven Senne/Associated Press

Many lobbyists will now be able to participate in federal government advisory boards and commissions, the Obama administration announced Wednesday.

The Office of Management and Budget issued the revised guidance to largely roll back an executive action President Obama took in 2010. That memorandum prohibited all agency heads from appointing or reappointing any federally registered lobbyist to “advisory committees and other boards and commissions.”

The alteration loosened the restriction, stating the ban only applies to lobbyists appointed to a board or commission in an “individual capacity,” or people “appointed to committees to exercise their own individual best judgment on behalf of the government,” according to the guidance. Lobbyists representing the interests of a labor groups, industry sectors, environmental groups or other nongovernmental entities, as well those representing state or local governments, can now serve on the commissions.

OMB said the Office of Government Ethics already has guidance on how to determine if a lobbyist is serving in an individual or representative capacity.

Then Sen. Obama campaigned heavily on the need to close the so-called “revolving door” between private-sector lobbying and government employment, and signed an executive order his first day in office to prohibit lobbyists from serving in his administration. In January, however, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. declined to strike down a lawsuit by a group of lobbyists who said the advisory board ban was unconstitutional.

The six lobbyists argued the prohibition was in violation of their First Amendment rights. The suit was initially dismissed by a district judge, but the appeals court called the decision premature and remanded the case back to the original judge.

Good government advocates were disappointed with the reversal.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight. “President Obama came in with the philosophy that he wanted to take a lot of the special interests out of government and really make a government of the people.” He added re-allowing lobbyists to sit on advisory boards is “giving those special interests a voice.”

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, called the rule “disheartening,” and said Obama decided to “surrender to K Street.”

The reversal “gives lobbyists the opportunity to tout their access and raise their lobbying fees,” Holman said. He added the original ban prevented “hired guns” with no real expertise on the issue they were lobbying on to have a voice on major policies.

“It marks a full retreat by the Obama administration,” Holman said. 

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