Lobbyists aren’t the only ones feeling offended by President Barack Obama’s stringent restrictions on communications between K Street and the executive branch about stimulus projects.
Today, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington partnered with the American League of Lobbyists to send a letter to White House Counsel Gregory Craig. It requests that Obama rescind a directive issued March 20 to all federal agency heads that bars them from having in-person or telephone conversations with registered lobbyists about particular projects, applications, or applicants for funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The rule only allows registered lobbyists to submit written communications on these matters.
Obama issued the directive as part of a broader memorandum to executive departments and agencies that he said was meant to ensure that funds under the Recovery Act are spent responsibly and transparently.
The letter to Craig, however, calls the directive on lobbyist communications “an ill-advised restriction on speech,” and claims it is “not narrowly tailored to achieve the intended purpose.” The letter’s authors—Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, and Dave Wenhold, president of ALL—stress that the ban does not apply to special interest representatives, such as bank vice presidents and corporate directors, who are not registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
And while the permitted written communications submitted by registered lobbyists must be publicly disclosed, any correspondence—whether oral or written—from non-registered special interests can happen without the public’s knowledge. During a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Sloan said that loophole will simply turn non-registered special interests into “de facto lobbyists” who are not subject to regulations or penalties for misconduct.
The White House special counsel on ethics and government reform, Norm Eisen, founded CREW, and is a major player in developing Obama’s ethics policies, including the March 20 directive. During the conference call, Sloan said she was surprised her former colleague would have created “proposals that I think aren’t well thought out.”
The full letter to Craig is available here.