American League of Lobbyists President Howard Marlowe on Monday urged the Office of Government Ethics to withdraw a proposed rule that would bar career government employees from accepting at least some lobbyists' invitations to attend professional conferences or other events.
Marlowe said the proposal -- which the ethics office said would apply to all groups that lobby, except "nonprofit professional associations, scientific organizations and learned societies" -- is unwarranted. The Obama administration hasn't provided any reports that show federal employees abused the current rule that says they can accept a lobbyist's invitation to go to "widely attended gatherings" for free or at a discount, he said.
The rule, if enacted, would “prevent government workers from having even casual social contact with registered lobbyists,” the League president said.
“To prevent interaction of almost any kind between lobbyists and Federal employees is not in the public interest,” Marlowe said in a statement. “It will result in the dumbing-down of government at a time when public trust is at an all-time low.”
The Office of Government Ethics said in the Federal Register that the widely attended gathering exception “was used to permit attendance at events, particularly social events, where the nexus to the government's interest was attenuated.”
“If one views the problem of lobbyist gifts as the mere potential for some quid pro quo, then probably an invitation to a gala ball will not directly influence an official to take action benefiting the giver,” the ethics office said. “But it is increasingly recognized that the more realistic problem is not the brazen quid pro quo, but rather the cultivation of familiarity and access that a lobbyist may use in the future to obtain a more sympathetic hearing for clients.”
The deadline for comments on the proposed rule, which was published Sept. 13 in the Federal Register, is Nov. 14.